Near-death experience prompts inventor to create wetsuit that allows people with disabilities to swim once again

The story of how a surfer-turned-inventor ended up helping people be safer and more confident in the water begins one day in a local surfing area near Ventura, California.

That day, Mark Okrusko, a resident of Santa Barbara, was riding Rincon, one of his favorite spots, when he collapsed and was held up underwater by the waves.

“As I waited for the flowing water to free me,” Okrusko said, “I got the idea for a costume designed with an extra breath of air.” His inspiration led to his first invention: the Breathvest, a wetsuit with an air bladder in the chest that would provide swimmers with a small supply of air.

While the goal was to help surfers get an extra breath of fresh air, Okrusko quickly realized, “The air bladder made it easier for people to float and swim in the water. The people who wore the costume loved how easily they could swim. So I had the idea of ​​the Floater.

Instead of an inflatable air pocket, Okrusko developed a patented foam pad for people to float, and founded an Airtime Watertime company.

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While the first suit was aimed at surfers and water sports enthusiasts, the second suit found an unexpected audience. “We started getting orders from people with disabilities, people with mobility issues and people who were afraid to swim but wanted to get back into the water,” Okrusko said. “They were looking on the internet for some kind of combination that would keep them afloat.”

One of his new fans was a recovering quadriplegic and Santa Barbara resident, Gustavo Ritterstein. In 2013, Ritterstein suffered an ATV accident that left him paralyzed from neck to toe. With physiotherapy and the use of the Floater wetsuit, Ritterstein said, “I was able to swim in the ocean again for the first time in years. With the wetsuit in the water, I was like everyone else. You couldn’t tell I was disabled.

“Feeling, at least for a moment, normal makes a big difference in your life.”

Gustavo Ritterstein with The Float

People who fear water have also discovered the benefits of the combination. Sandra Brodeur of New Hampshire was a non-swimmer because of her fear of not being able to touch bottom. But that changed with the costume. “I felt so secure and confident at all times thanks to the buoyancy of the suit that I was able to relax in the water for the first time in my life and enjoy it. Sometimes I was in 30 to 40 feet of water without fear!

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Another surprise application was its use by water rescue personnel, Gabriel Swan, 2016 Lifeguard Champion for Puerto Rico. He heard about the costume and brought one back with him to Condado Beach where he served as a volunteer lifeguard. Using the costume, Swan said, “I feel more confident to catch someone. If I do a rescue and have to swim to a victim, I can reach them twice as fast.

In addition to water rescue teams, Airtime Watertime has also built relationships with swimming and safety groups, such as Waterman in Chile, whose mission is to provide safety, training and safety so that everyone can enjoy the water.

“We haven’t started to change lives,” Okrusko said. “We just wanted to make swimming a bit safer and more fun. But every week someone writes to us to tell us how we helped them get back into the water. It’s incredible.”

Contact Airtime Watertime, Inc. at 805-280-8375 [email protected](Kyle Crocco Story)

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