We found a greener steamer that won’t break the bank and will keep you toasty in the tube.
We recently ran a piece on the evolution of eco friendly wetsuits. We wanted to know whether wetsuits could be legitimately ‘green’ or if they were just ‘green-washed’ with the help of some marketing spin and a 4ft shorey.
Now, I’ve done a ‘wetty warmer’ in about every major wetsuit brand around — Billabong, Ripcurl, Quiksilver, Patagonia and most recently Need Essentials (I did one this morning in their 4/3mm suit).
I guess that makes me a decent enough candidate to review a new wetsuit I’ve been seeing crop up lately in the lineup and around the interwebs.
Indeed, I was interested in testing out Project Blank’s Eco Ultimate 3/2mm Steamer for two reasons.
Firstly, they’re a fresh faced brand based between Sydney and Byron Bay (coincidentally like the We Are Explorers team) who launched in Australia in early 2020.
Obviously, this was not a great time to launch a company, but surf equipment has largely been spared from the wrath of Covid, in fact, by all accounts it’s been booming. With temps at my local Manly Beach in the 17-18 degrees Celsius range, and spring in Sydney invariably still pretty cold, it’s a good time to invest in some extra rubber.
But the chill notwithstanding, the second reason I wanted to slip into this suit, indeed, the real reason this piece got the editorial tick of approval — as surfing in work hours was always going to be a harder sell — was thanks to a strong sustainability angle.
Project Blank caught my eye as they’ve fully embraced a sustainable approach to wetsuit manufacture, dubbing themselves ‘the good wetsuit company’. Their Instagram bio reads, ‘Premium quality, unbeatable value, green-minded’ and that’s certainly some top criteria we look for in the gear department here at WAE. But is this what I’ve found after a half dozen surfs in the suit?
Which Wetsuit To Choose?
This is less a paragraph on what thickness wetsuit to choose — entirely dependent on your location – and more about which Project Blank wetty would be right for you as far as dollars spent and environmental impact.
There are three steamer suits to choose from.
Their entry level wetsuit, the High Performance Steamer, is made from the least eco conscious rubber in the form of limestone neoprene. It’s basically the standard rubber material in wetty’s these days, after replacing the OG petroleum based rubber.
Then there’s the Eco Performance Steamer which, in addition to being constructed of limestone neoprene, comes with 45 recycled PET bottles in every suit as well as recycled rubber taken from car tyres. The latter not only reduces landfill waste, but reduces energy consumption and CO² emissions by 72%.
Finally, there’s the Eco Ultimate Steamer. This suit employs the same amount of PET bottles as well as the recycled car tyre rubber, but the core ingredient is Yulex ‘natural rubber’ instead of the limestone based stuff. While limestone replaced the traditional petroleum based neoprene, it’s still not as green as some would have you believe, so Yulex is as good as it gets.
How green is the Eco Ultimate?
In addition to the Yulex, recycled PET bottles and recycled car tyres, there’s a couple of other neat features in this wetsuit.
Its taped seams are sealed with a water based, non-toxic, solvent-free glue to minimise additional chemicals and the kneepads are made from 92% recycled materials. So you can drop your knee and pig dog into the proverbial pit feeling especially good about yourself.
It also comes with a bamboo thermal lining. Although bamboo isn’t as green as it perhaps sounds (the production process can be pretty chemically intensive) it’s still a renewable resource and deserves eco points compared to other options.
In addition to all the tech within the wetsuit itself, Project Blank are even going a step further and planting trees, removing rubbish and offsetting carbon with every suit sold. All their products are also manufactured in a green facility with solar panels and they say the energy generated saves over 6 million kilowatts of energy per year, saving 130,834 trees and over 7 million kilograms of CO² to date.
How Warm Is It?
Admittedly, all the eco-friendly initiatives won’t matter for much if a wetsuit doesn’t uphold its number one job – to keep you warm.
Now, I tend to be one of the last blokes still wearing a steamer by the time summer comes around, so I’m pretty conservative when it comes to wetsuit thickness and water temps. I’m not afraid to don a 4/3mm and booties during early surfs this time of year in Sydney, so taking the 3/2mm for an early with a stiff offshore wind at 6:15am felt brave to me.
However, I was pleasantly surprised, even though I shouldn’t have been. Project Blank reckon the Eco Ultimate Steamer is appropriate for 13-18 degrees celsius temps and Manly’s waters are in the positively balmy 17-18 degree range at the moment.
For comparison, it even felt warmer than a similar style 3/2mm wetty I’d previously owned from a very popular surf brand starting with Q… no points for guessing which.
Flexibility And Comfort
After warmth, the next most important criteria in a wetsuit is flexibility and comfort.
You notice how much a wetsuit impacts paddle power and arm strength/fatigue when you add a millimetre or two of rubber to your usual thickness. To put it simply, it feels like you’re paddling with a resistance band wrapped around your shoulders.
I found the Project Blank suit to be suitably comfortable. I wore a size Large suit which the size chart specifies being for someone up to 175cm tall despite me being 185cm — as the Large-Tall size was sold out. However, the Yulex afforded plenty of flexibility that it still looked like a perfectly normal fit, so there’s plenty of latitude there to find the right size for you.
It’s not quite as unrestricted and flexible as some other suits I’ve worn, but those perhaps weren’t quite as warm and they certainly weren’t in the same price range as the Eco Ultimate Steamer. To strike that balance between warmth and flexibility you’re looking at nearly doubling the RRP of the Project Blank, especially if you’re after the eco-friendly Yulex option.
The Yulex rubber is also great for those with sensitive skin or neoprene allergies and the bamboo lining was soft and really easy to slip into.
Some customer reviews have noted the longer drying time of the Eco Ultimate wetsuit. This could be attributed to the bamboo lining as bamboo materials can take marginally longer to dry than their alternatives but I haven’t noticed an issue with my suit yet.
I’m no stranger to putting on a damp wetsuit anyway and 9 times out of 10 it’s not the suit’s fault, but rather the state I left it in on the bathroom floor.
That said, I rinsed this one in fresh water and hung it inside-out in the shade during the day and the inside was bone dry within about 8 hours. Not the quickest but certainly nothing out of the ordinary.
The Finer Details
The one gripe I have with this suit — and I’m being a stickler here — was the seam around the neck. Where most suits will have a seamless neck, so as not to cause chafing, there is a stitch line up the back of the neck here (with a patch over the top) which was a minor irritation. It’s certainly not enough to stop me buying one, nor recommending it to friends, but it’d be cool to see them rectify this in future.
Everything else within the wetsuit works effortlessly. The chest zip is simple and functional and the silicone grippers on the inside of the wrist and ankles of the suit help to stop it moving around and riding up.
Project Blank is part of the new wave of wetsuit brands going direct to consumer.
Need Essentials is a similar brand that started the trend and proved the demand for quality wetsuits at what seems like wholesale prices. However, Project Blank has a considerably stronger environmental narrative so has since become my pick.
As mentioned in our feature on greener steamers, in the early days of Yulex, such suits carried at least a 25% dollar premium. The cost of being environmentally conscious at the time, and this was after pioneering companies like Patagonia ate most of the margin.
At the time of writing, Project Blank are also offering $50 off on their Eco range – meaning you can get a Yulex steamer for $295 which is honestly really crazy!