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DragonSkin: UC San Diego graduates fashion footwear to keep rays at bay

One of DragonSkin's stingray-resistant booties.
(Courtesy of DragonSkin)

Former UC San Diego roommates Boulos Haddad and Randy Lewis have combined their engineering and business knowledge with their love of the ocean to invent a product they hope will give stingray barbs the boot.

Their product, DragonSkin, is the “first stingray-resistant bootie built for that use,” Haddad said.

The booties are made from neoprene layered with “a proprietary puncture-resistant material,” Lewis said. The layering provides “complementary coverage of your foot.”

Lt. Lonnie Stephens of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department said it’s hard to determine how many stingray injuries are treated daily at La Jolla Shores. He estimated an average of 20 to 30 on busy days, often more with warmer water.

Haddad and Lewis met as roommates their freshman year at UCSD in La Jolla. Haddad graduated in 2016 with degrees in physiology and neuroscience and entrepreneurship and biotechnology. Lewis graduated in 2017 with a degree in mechanical engineering.

A third former roommate also is part of the company but did not want to be identified.

Lewis, who lives in Escondido but still surfs in La Jolla, currently works in robotics and defense.

Haddad lives in Sunnyvale in Santa Clara County and works in business development. Haddad said he visits Southern California frequently.

“We always knew that we wanted to start a company together,” Haddad said. As they met and developed their friendship in San Diego, often at the beach, it was natural that their company would focus on something involving the water.

Randy Lewis holds a stingray barb, which DragonSkin booties were made to resist.
(Courtesy of DragonSkin)

The DragonSkin design process, much like the booties themselves, was multi-layered. Lewis said his apartment looked like “a mad scientist lab.”

He and the others tested dozens of materials against stingray barbs on a pendulum the team created to replicate stingray stings. Though they caught some stingrays to test their stings against the booties, Lewis said that was time-consuming, which led to the invention of the pendulum.

“We measured the force that [stingrays] stick with” and used those figures to engineer the pendulum, which creates a stingray barb’s maximum force, Lewis said.

“The pendulum just sits in the apartment, so we can use it as many times as we want over and over and over,” he said. “When we have something that is good on the pendulum, then we can go out and verify it” using real stingrays.

Lewis said the team members didn’t wear the booties to test the material, as “it’s difficult to know when the stingray stings you if it doesn’t go through the bootie.”

Instead, the booties were tested with a “foot analog,” a membrane-like material, he said.

Haddad said the team consulted with stingray experts to ensure “we didn’t create anything that hurts stingrays.”

“We’re fans of stingrays,” he said.

The challenge in creating the DragonSkin booties was that puncture-resistant materials often are not flexible or stretchy, which are necessary components for swimmers and surfers, Lewis said.

“As much as possible, we wanted it to feel like a great bootie” that can guard against cold water, rocky ground and other ocean elements, Haddad said. “Stingray resistance is part of it.”

None of DragonSkin’s creators has been stung by a stingray. “Not yet,” Lewis said.

Haddad added that no buyers so far have reported a sting. The booties are priced at $99 to $119 across three types.

The DragonSkin team is now looking into transitioning from making the booties by hand to working with a manufacturer. Orders are on pause while that gets sorted out.

Lewis said he hopes to expand DragonSkin’s ability to protect against all kinds of rays, not just the ones in Southern California that the company tested against.

“We just want to make a better product overall,” he said. He added that the team would like to make gloves for fishing as well.

For more information, visit mydragonskin.com.