Surfing: Heated wetsuit opens up new frontiers

Technological advances could take the sport all the way to the Arctic Ocean
  • @emilydugan

Little can be done to heat up Britain's icy seas, but an end to knee-knocking cold surf sessions may be in sight this winter as the world's first self-warming wetsuits are launched.

A small British surf company will this month reveal a centrally heated wetsuit that could revolutionise surfing around the UK's chilly shores.

The Tiki Prodigy wetsuit has two chemically activated gel panels that can be triggered while the surfer is in the water. Using the same technology as some hand-warmers, a metal disk inside the suit reacts with the gel when it is flexed, causing it to generate heat and warm the suit and its wearer.

Tim Heyland, co-founder of Tiki, who helped pioneer the British surf scene in the 1960s, said he hoped it would encourage more winter surfing in the UK: "I think it will open up the season for a lot more people, especially those living in the North." At £239, he believes it will be affordable for many keen to brave winter waves.

Rohan Inglis, 28, a team body boarder for Tiki, said he was looking forward to trying it out: "One of my favourite places to surf is in North Yorkshire, and the wave conditions are often best when it's snowing. It's damn cold, so having some extra heat will mean I can stay out there for longer."

Tiki, based in Braunton, north Devon, beat off competition from the Australian giants Rip Curl, which will launch its own version in October. Rip Curl announced a prototype of an electronically heated wetsuit in 2006, but teething troubles mean surfers have yet to see it.

The Rip Curl H-Bomb suit is expected to go on sale for around £500. It uses rechargeable batteries and has heated elements whose temperature can be controlled in a similar way to an electric blanket.

"For the last year we've been developing the technology, and even had the wetsuit tested in the Arctic," a Rip Curl spokesman said. "We wanted to produce the most advanced and comfortable heated wetsuit available."

Chris Power, editor of the surfing magazine Carve, said the technology would make surfing possible in countries that were previously prohibitively cold. "The 'next frontier' could well be the Arctic – places like Greenland, Alaska, Iceland and Russia."