If a new superhero combining Batman and Aquaman was created to save fellow citizens from ocean hazards, he would probably wear a Wave Wrecker, a wave-surfing wetsuit created by San Diego native Nick Gadler.
Of the product’s appeal, company vice-president Mike Van Nostram said, “I think (kids like) the superhero look. They feel like they are a little more indestructible than they already are.” Wave Wrecker is a short wetsuit that features strategically placed protruding fins on the legs and arms, and buoyant add-ons on the chest and back.
Gadler explained that the supplements help achieve buoyancy and improve the hydrodynamics of the human body. “When you are waiting for a wave (even if you are not moving), you don’t sink. You don’t have to move, so you can conserve all your energy to unload on the next wave that comes,” he said, pointing out that the soft foam fins are harmless and child-proof.
The suit was originally designed to enhance the body surfing experience. “You just wait, and then kick, kick, kick to start swimming and catch that wave. Then you have your fins to grip and hold you on that wave. Kind of like a board, but without one,” Gadler said.
To test the product, this reporter met with Gadler, Van Nostram and his 9-year-old son Bradley on July 20 at La Jolla Shores. There was a degree of difficulty in getting the suit on and off for this newbie, which the more experienced users appeared to have overcome. We got in the water equipped with Wave Wrecker suits and swimming fins, noticing the incredulous looks from beach-goers.
Passing the wave breaking point, it was already noticeable that the experience was vastly different from regular body surfing. The level of buoyancy was just right, enough to leisurely float, but also to easily duck under the waves. However, trying to stand still through the whitewash was hard: the fins and add-ons that made my body more water-efficient also made it harder to withstand the current. Gadler pointed out that wearers get used to having a more hydrodynamic shape that catches on currents more easily.
He indicated that the best time to start swimming is when a wave is building and starting to “pitch up.” At the first opportunity, I started kicking and, to my surprise, I was easily pushed out by the water while keeping my arms tight to my body – just as Bradley suggested. I rode the wave over the white water for about 20 feet with a feeling similar to boogie boarding, except there was nothing between the water and me. I was the board!
Gadler said he came up with the Wave Wrecker idea six years ago, while teaching his son how to swim in his pool. He said he wanted the child to swim to the deep side of the pool, but the non-stop movement to keep afloat wore him out. “I took (a pool noodle) and put it down by my ankle and rounded it up through my leg and up to my hand. I took another noodle for the other leg, and I leaned forward in the water with them gripped in my hands. I was just sitting there waiting for him, and all of a sudden thought, ‘Man, if I had this kind of buoyancy in the water, I bet I can catch a lot of waves.’ ”
He soon took to the task of developing his vision into a product. Gadler bought wetsuits and foam and started experimenting with different fin shapes and locations. He laughed that one of the first problems he ran into was, “There’s almost no glue in the world that will hold (the foam to the wetsuit), and I found that out the hard way, of course.”
But he soon found a plastics company, Kansas-based Plastics Resource Group, which proved to be instrumental in the design. “I thought I was going to make the suit all one piece out of some sort of cool material which does not exist,” he said, “and they told me, you’re not going to do that, you’re going to have to go back to neoprene and foam, but you are going to mold the foam, and then have it sewn on.”
The prototypes were sent to a manufacturer in China, and Gadler has been working on commercializing the Wave Wrecker ever since. For that, he counts on business developmental director Van Nostram. “Our goal is to get this into the marketplace so people can see it, discover the safety factor, and then change the lives of people who want to come to the beach and enjoy themselves,” he said.
About 60 percent of the current Wave Wrecker business is for kids, Van Nostram added. “My 9-year-old goes out in the waves now, when before he wouldn’t, because he feels more confident that he’s going to be popping up on top of the surface, versus been sucked under that wave,” he explained.
Wave wrecker also has a version without arm fins for big wave surfing. More at wavewrecker.com