Product Spotlight: Buell Float Suit – The Floating Wetsuit Everyone’s Talking About

Of course there are a few options these days in the world of big waves for life jackets with zippers and bladders and escaping CO2 gases… but how realistic is a zipper in a wide, albeit shallower, slab surf? You know, like that expanse of concrete-like reef between Logs and Pipe, everyone’s surfing right now. After acquiring Pipeline Master and specialist Jamie O’Brien earlier this year, the guys at Buell wetsuits have come up with a solution everyone’s been talking about lately: the Float Suit. Full of passion and pep (and full of color), Buell founder / designer / owner in Santa Cruzan, Ryan Buell, gave us the truth right off the jet.

Jamie O’Brien, Pipeline. Photo: Nelly

Surfline: Your Float Suit… the details?

Ryan Buell: Listen. I’m in wetsuit quivers like guys are in surfboard quivers. And from my point of view, you should have a suit for every need. This floating combination is part of this quiver. But back to Jamie O’Brien last year. He walked up to us and we clicked and we signed him right away. Not only that, we signed it for life. He is now one of the owners of the Buell suits. In large part and thanks to Matt Rockhold. So Jamie, he likes daring and fun, but you wanna know what else he’s talking about? Security. And he doesn’t care what other people think. On his own, he made softboards cool.

Jamie O'Brien, Buell, Floatsuit,

Jamie O’Brien, making soft boards cool. Photo: Billy Watts

Now let’s move quickly to a month after signing it. I asked him what he needed and he said he needed a suit for Pipeline. Not something with CO2 or that is restrictive, but an impact combination that protects it from big waves in shallow water. He surfs Pipe 90% of the time. So if we could add a little float to a wetsuit, that would complete its wetsuit quiver. It would help for impact in shallow water or sharp reefs, and it would get you back to the surface faster i.e. help you save your breath. So the end result is what you see today, version # 1.

Photo credit: Jérémie Klein

And hasn’t that costume already saved his life earlier this year?

Yeah. Two months after conception, Jamie was surfing Pipeline. He wore the suit and caught a wave like he’s probably had a thousand times before, but he hit rock bottom – or his board or something – and was turned off for 38 seconds. Luckily he was floating around, some friends helped him in and he woke up and the first thing he said or realized was “Wow, this costume saved my life!” And that’s a big compliment in my book with my lifeguard experience coming from a guy like him.

But there are so many possibilities with this wetsuit, more than just impact in big waves crashing in shallow water. I clearly didn’t invent the impact suit, I just innovated and improved it with input from Jamie.

Primarily, the goal of this combination is zero performance loss with a little extra float. But not much to be bulky. Some of our riders don’t even know which wetsuit has the float and which doesn’t when they are side by side. But beyond the big waves breaking in shallow water, I think this suit is also perfect for photographers. Tell me this costume is not perfect for children. Or lifeguards. Or foil, paddle, stuntmen, cliff jumpers… even snorkelers! Ultimately, I would love to see every man, woman and child in this float costume. It should be part of your quiver.

I mean, look at this… the other day, in his heat at the huge Sunset, Jadson Andre had a nasty wipe down, couldn’t catch his breath and thought he was going to be held back for a few waves. But he tells me that this floating suit made him rise to the surface so quickly and before the second wave hit. So this costume helped save her life IN the event!

Photo: Nelly

Beyond Jamie O’Brien, you have a pretty strong connection here in Hawaii.

Yes. Right now we have: Jamie O’Brien, Lucas Godfrey, Ezra Sitt, Guy Perry, Kealii Mamala, Kalani David, Gavin Beschen, Poopies and more on Buell here. Since arriving on the island, we’ve had calls from Mikey Bruneau, Tai Van Dyke, Landon McNamara, Kalani Chapman, Clyde Aikau and Ha’a Aikau and even Nate Fletcher for one of these floating suits. It’s unreal and flattering to us in a proving ground like Hawaii.

Photo: Billy Watts

Tell me about Buell’s connection to the rescuers. I know you’ve been a lifeguard for a long time, but doesn’t Buell have a North Shore “Rescue Program”?

As good as I think this suit is for big wave surfers, I think it is beneficial for lifeguards as well. Whether they are on a jet ski to rescue their towing partner or performing a swim rescue while on duty. The floating suit allows you to spend less energy floating and more energy to keep the victim calm and bring them in. You can’t really swim with a life jacket but the JOB! The waterline suit actually improves your swim by keeping you parallel to the waterline. Rescuers often encounter shallow rocky conditions, so this suit also serves as additional padding and protection. Hawaii is heavy water and it’s also zero point for big wave surfing and real world rescues and that’s why we do all of our R&D and action tests here on the North Coast. Ultimately, I would love to see these Buell floating suits hung in towers and lifeguard headquarters around the world.


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