Scott Boot - The Man Behind Billabong's Wetsuits
Scott Boot is one of the most respected wetsuit designers in the world. With a career that has spanned almost two decades he has sheathed more surfers in rubber than just about anyone. Scott was behind O'neill's first -Psycho- and is now launching Billabong's Xero Furnace, which is being billed as -the world's most advanced wetsuit'.
We caught up with Booty to have a chat about his career, what it takes to make it in the wetsuit game, and what the perfect wetsuit might look like (or not look like). Read ahead and you'll understand what that means.
EA How did you get into designing wetsuits? What skills do you need?
SB When I left school in -92, I had no idea what I was going to do! I was into surfing and art, I was never going to be a lawyer. I asked a good friend and boss at the time, David 'Wato' Watson from Beach Without Sand surf shop in North Avalon where I grew up, what he thought I should do. We went through a few options, and it was literally,
Wato: -What do you like doing?'
Boot: -I like Surfing',
Wato: -What else about surfing do you like?'
Boot: -I like Wetsuits!'
And there you have it! Wato put me in contact with Greg Day who ran O'Neill Australia, and by the following Monday I was working in the warehouse, learning everything from the ground up. At night I was doing a degree in Industrial design and working a few hours a day designing logos and suit colourways and sending them to my contacts at the O'Neill HQ in Santa Cruz California. I soon moved from warehouse and wetsuit returns to a full time position designing. I was then offered the job as full time senior designer based in Santa Cruz and packed my bags for the USA.
Working for O'Neill in Santa Cruz as the wetsuit designer is like being the mayor of Santa Cruz, the place is known for 2 things: Steamer Lane and O'Neill wetsuits. So it was such a good time in my life, and I met some really great people that I still have contact with today. I was really enjoying living in the USA but it just came to a point when I said I have to go home. It wasn't long before a phone call from Dougall Walker from Billabong rudely interrupting my back swing on Royal Avalon golf course. He asked if we could meet. Since then I have been working up on the Gold Coast as their Global Wetsuits Manager.
Billabong is a fantastic company to work for, with a web of contacts and an awesome team of guy's around the globe, along with my right hand man on the Gold Coast, Vinnie Ryan. Vinnie started on the cutting room floor, cutting and screening suits almost twenty years ago, so combined the two of us have about 40 years experience. Today the company is going through interesting times externally, but internally it is a group of talented designers, surfers and surf enthusiasts putting together some of the best product in the industry, and I'm stoked to be a part of it.
EA When you worked at O'Neill what was your proudest achievement?
SB There are allot of proud achievements, but you can never claim it solely, because wetsuits are a team effort, machinists, pattern makers and raw material manufacturers all do there part to make it all come together. My most proudest moments would be when you've worked tirelessly on a design or development, 'be it both material or features' and then hearing someone I have never met and doesn't know who I am, be really stoked and compliment that material or feature. It's like silent gratification. And then there's my mates, who'll tell you straight up if it's good or bad, and when they say it's good, that's rewarding, because you know they're looking for anything to knock you about.
EA What is your best work at Billabong so far in your mind?
SB Your readers probably want me to say one single defining new material or wetsuit, but in actual fact it's just the whole journey. The creation of ranges and continuously improving on the last, re-evaluating and altering to out perform the prior. Working with fabric mills and small neoprene suppliers to improve on thermal qualities, drape or hand feel is all part of the over-all stoke. I'm actually a modern day hippy. I don't dress or speak like one, but inside I'm always concerned about the things we do and their impact. Travelling to a lot of different factories around the world, you see first hand the environmental challenges of mass producing any product, so we have been actively pursuing alternatives from recycling to changing our thought process altogether regarding materials and manufacturing processes and things are looking brighter.
EA What's the single biggest challenge working in the wetsuit industry?
SB What suit to wear for the early..! Ha Ha .. I guess it would be, that wetsuits are worn in some pretty testing conditions such as salt, extreme UV and still have to stretch and keep you warm. Those four elements to combine are miles apart form each other, it's a balancing act of the right density to block and maintain body warmth, but keep it light and flexible, seams have to stretch but withstand salt and uv exposure time and time again. So it's the right balance to make something as comfortable as today's suits, but also make it last long enough for consumers to get value from it.
EA You often hear people say -all of the wetsuits come out of the same factory'. To what extent is this true? And if that's the case how come they turn out so different from brand to brand?
SB All the major brands utilize a few manufacturers, this is true. It could become very homogenized but it doesn't, because we all act independently, including the factories. Billabong has a factory specifically making our wetsuits only. We are also always seeking unique materials from other vendors in an effort to set our wetsuits apart from our competitors, and push the technology to new areas. We have our own pattern makers and fit standards, so each brand is unique to materials, fit and construction and place its built, making for a very different end result.
EA Do you have a rubber fetish? For example, have you ever made a wetsuit cape and danced around your house wearing just it and booties, pretending that you're -Neoprene Man'?
SB I must have, or I wouldn't have ben doing it so long. I've been caught sitting at my desk working in a wetsuit, driving my car in a wetsuit, going to the work Christmas party in a wetsuit, but no capes.
EA The new Xero Furnace suit is being hailed -the world's most advanced wetsuit'. In layman's terms, what makes it so awesome?
SB It's not defined by a single feature, but a culmination of multiple features in one suit. The entry system we are most proud of, the way it enveloped like a pillow case to create a water tight entry, the quick dry, stretch thermal lining which we have continually progressed and used for years.
The silk touch low water absorbing external jersey, Airlite foam core with the right balance of thermal retention and flexibility, the stitchless welded seams and wrist cuffs and so on, and so on. This suit has all the latest materials and techniques to keep you warmer and more comfortable than ever before.
EA If money was no object, what kind of wetsuit would you make for yourself and why?
SB An electric magnetic force field, so no water would ever touch you, you would have a layer about 5mm all around you, at a constant room temp, that water wouldn't get through, even when submerged, like dunking a fly under water they become encased in a bubble. You could just wear your normal clothes, or some specially modified thermal active wear and never have to think about it, or ever get changed in the car park ever again. Just wear it 24-7!
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Interview by Tim Hawken at Empire Ave