Hayden Burford and the shark-proof wetsuit

Stu Nettle
Swellnet Dispatch

It’s been twenty years since Hayden Burford had his Island Surf shop in South Australia, a popular hang for Adelaide groms of the 80s and 90s. Hayden has since left his home state, he now lives at Lennox Head, yet he still surfs and is connected to the industry.

Hayden, however, is no longer an entrepreneur but an inventor, and his latest invention was inspired by events in his new hometown. From 2014 to just recently, surfers of the NSW North Coast lived in fear as a spate of shark attacks, two of them fatal, occurred in the region.

Three years ago, at the height of shark fever, Hayden was chatting to his partner who mentioned protective motorcycle jeans made with kevlar. In an offhand way, Hayden’s partner questioned why wetsuits couldn't offer similar protection from sharks.

“And that was it,” says Hayden of his eureka moment. “Why not wetsuits?!”

So the search for the magic fabric began. “I tested fabric after fabric,” says Hayden, “until I finally found a miracle fabric out of Holland.”

Hayden can’t tell me what the fabric is called other than it’s a ‘high tech polymer’, however he explains that it’s so tough that Dutch prison guards wear shirts made from it. “Not even a prison knife plunged at close range can nick it.”

“When I realised just how strong and how light the material is, I knew I’d found the right stuff.”

Hayden successfully applied for a patent for the Shark Resistant Composite Fibre and began the process to commercialise it.

With a grant from the NSW Government’s Shark Management Strategy, Hayden hooked up with Associate Professor Charlie Huveneers at Flinders University to test the product.

A white shark approaches a dummy made from Hayden's Shark Resistant Composite Fibre (Flinders University)

“Through a variety of laboratory and field tests, we found that the new fabrics were more resistant to puncture, laceration, and shark bites than standard neoprene wetsuits,” Prof Huveneers said.

“More force was required to puncture the new fabrics, and cuts made to the new fabrics were smaller and shallower than those on standard neoprene,” added Prof Huveneers.

They also found the material, which when magnified looks like millions of small eyelets, caught on the tips of shark's teeth and they shook to remove themselves from it deterring a second approach.

Hayden, and Prof Huveneers for that matter, know the wetsuits won’t stop impact injuries from shark bite, bones will still break and fracture, however the leading cause of death from shark bites is blood loss, so this is what the wetsuits are designed to stop.

“We have reams of data about shark attacks” explains Hayden, “not just where they occurred but what part of the body the shark bites.”

“The vast majority of serious attacks involve injuries from the waist down. That’s where the big arteries are, it’s where you’re liable to lose the most blood.”

So when it comes to designing bite-proof wetsuits, Hayden is using the high tech polymer in panels around that part of the body.

“The material is only one way stretch, so there’ll be a small loss in flexibility,” says Hayden, “however we’re not making wetsuits for Kelly Slater, we’re making wetsuits for surfers who surf in sharky areas.”

As we speak, Hayden has bite-proof dive wetsuits ready to go, but the surfing wetsuits need some more work. “We’re testing how thin we can go and still prevent puncture,” says Hayden.

So far he’s spoken to one wetsuit company - “a large American wetsuit company” - and they’ve been very interested. He is, however, bracing himself for an onslaught tomorrow as that’s when the findings of the work with Flinders University will be published in a science journal.

“I think this will be a game changer,” says Hayden confidently.

Comments

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Monday, 18 Nov 2019 at 1:16pm

Nice work , Hayden. Appreciate the effort you’re putting in to improve outcomes for the unlucky few amongst us who get nailed by one of these beasts.

And that photo of the shark about to test the product is nuts. Check the jaw muscles, the teeth, the girth of its head. Incredible animal. Just wondering if there was bait inside the material ?

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Monday, 18 Nov 2019 at 1:20pm

Reckon that'll become clear tomorrow when the paper drops explaining methodology etc.

boxright's picture
boxright's picture
boxright commented Monday, 18 Nov 2019 at 1:36pm

Not sure about the clamping pressure of a white, wouldnt that cause serious internal injuries and bleeding?

Good protection against bulls and tigers I suppose.

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Monday, 18 Nov 2019 at 1:40pm

I’d rather get hit with a baseball bat than a samurai sword.

cswells's picture
cswells's picture
cswells commented Monday, 18 Nov 2019 at 2:25pm

My thoughts exactly - while the neoprene may reduce external lacrations / bite injuries, surely there'll still be near-fatal internal injuries with that sort of energy transfer?

Regardless, it's still great to see innovation in this space.

daisy duke kahanamoku's picture
daisy duke kahanamoku's picture
daisy duke kaha... commented Monday, 18 Nov 2019 at 2:45pm

Just my opinion, but I'd prefer near-fatal to fatal.

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Monday, 18 Nov 2019 at 6:16pm

me too.

Watashi wa metabo oyagi desu.

ojackojacko's picture
ojackojacko's picture
ojackojacko commented Monday, 18 Nov 2019 at 1:44pm

this is potentially fantastic, but the comments are not that convincing - standard neoprene hardly offers much resistance. hope it works and they can get them to market affordably.

“Through a variety of laboratory and field tests, we found that the new fabrics were more resistant to puncture, laceration, and shark bites than standard neoprene wetsuits,” Prof Huveneers said.

“More force was required to puncture the new fabrics, and cuts made to the new fabrics were smaller and shallower than those on standard neoprene,” added Prof Huveneers.

carpetman's picture
carpetman's picture
carpetman commented Monday, 18 Nov 2019 at 1:55pm

Great concept. It will be interesting to check the paper out.

One concerning comment;

"They also found the material, which when magnified looks like millions of small eyelets, caught on the tips of shark's teeth and they shook to remove themselves from it deterring a second approach."

Don't really wanna get stuck in the sharks mouth.

Nigeisblessed's picture
Nigeisblessed's picture
Nigeisblessed commented Tuesday, 19 Nov 2019 at 12:22pm

Thing is, a majority of attacks are by smaller sharks, the type that take one bite and go away. This stuff sounds really good against the majority of attacks, thing that got me was the material getting caught in the beasts teeth. Had visions of getting dragged under while the thing tries to unhook you, minimal blood loss and drowning instead, haha.

*No facts in this comment were checked, purely anecdotal from 1/2 remembered articles on shark attacks.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Monday, 18 Nov 2019 at 3:48pm

Bite proof dive suits ready to go...have a link to them ?

kaki bibaita

Dave Drinkwater's picture
Dave Drinkwater's picture
Dave Drinkwater commented Monday, 18 Nov 2019 at 3:51pm

Well done on innovation, However, We have whites in Ballina and i'm with the Pounds per square inch crew. (Ibf/in2). I like the baseball bat analogy...

Bungan33's picture
Bungan33's picture
Bungan33 commented Tuesday, 19 Nov 2019 at 10:14am

Yes - the lbf/in2 is obviously going to damage you - but maybe the analogy is being offered the choice of being hit with a baseball bat or a baseball bat covered in razor blades...?

Dave Drinkwater's picture
Dave Drinkwater's picture
Dave Drinkwater commented Wednesday, 20 Nov 2019 at 9:11pm

I like that Bungan33...

simba's picture
simba's picture
simba commented Monday, 18 Nov 2019 at 4:13pm

Well great news that someone is doing something pro active....good on Hayden,but i cant understand why the state governments and federal government hasn't been more pro active on this whole issue....im sure if they threw some real money at it it would have already been solved .

simba

Terminal's picture
Terminal's picture
Terminal commented Monday, 18 Nov 2019 at 4:57pm

Because all that truly matters is a budget surplus.

simba's picture
simba's picture
simba commented Monday, 18 Nov 2019 at 5:15pm

It would be loose change to them......checking that photo out ,dont know why everyones worried.......big nostrils, obviously scent plays a big part and what a lovely set of teeth......colgate Ad ?Imagine that thing sticking its head out and saying hi while your waiting for a wave.

simba

hoody's picture
hoody's picture
hoody commented Tuesday, 19 Nov 2019 at 8:48am

Snake proof socks next Hayden?
Great job Dude.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Tuesday, 19 Nov 2019 at 10:16am

If you want to read more about the study the results have just been published here.

 

tango's picture
tango's picture
tango commented Tuesday, 19 Nov 2019 at 1:49pm

If anyone has time for a quick precis, I'm all ears....

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Tuesday, 19 Nov 2019 at 2:48pm

From memory there were ten types of materials tested including two types of bog standard neoprene which was the control material(s). Other materials included various types of neoprene impregnated with polymer, one-sided polymer on neoprene, and neoprene with polymer on each side.

A sub-surface was created that mimicked flesh and bone - i.e easily depressed up to a point, and then staunchly resisted up to a point.

Tests were in the lab with a shark's tooth puncturing downwards, and lacerating across, or in the ocean with the materials strapped around a dummy.

Across the board the polymer materials were stronger than neoprene - no surprises - however there were still some puncture marks in some of the tests.

Various qualifications about what those puncture marks might mean. Also qualifications about bite pressure from sharks, which has been tested, but questions whether that's analogous to a real attack as they use a different part of the jaw.

Seemed to be an easy confidence that the materials would work well for dive suits, but for surfing which requires greater flexibity the language became more cautious.

Definitely promising, but perhaps not yet the panacea surfers in N NSW or SW WA might be hoping for.

tango's picture
tango's picture
tango commented Tuesday, 19 Nov 2019 at 9:19pm

That's an impressive memory you've got, Stu.

In the googling I did I could not find any study that had been done on GWS bite force - all were estimates based on modelling. From my shark obsession as a kid I recall that GWS has a bite pressure in the order of 10,000psi (the more recent modelled studies suggested a very wide range, and used force rather than pressure, I think) which would be enough to crush you without puncturing skin (assuming your skin had the tensile strength not to split etc from the bite force).
Scary stuff.

WendyM's picture
WendyM's picture
WendyM commented Wednesday, 20 Nov 2019 at 3:34pm

Please Explain

amb's picture
amb's picture
amb commented Tuesday, 19 Nov 2019 at 10:34am

Use to love going to Haydens Island Surf Shop as a kid.

tubeshooter's picture
tubeshooter's picture
tubeshooter commented Tuesday, 19 Nov 2019 at 12:56pm

yeah good stuff ,,, any link to the dive suits would be appreciated..

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Tuesday, 19 Nov 2019 at 3:47pm

No links, TS, as the dive suits aren't commerically available yet.

When Hayden said they're "100% ready to go" he meant there's no further R&D required, just need a company to license the technology, pay Hayden his due, and start producing them.

On the surfing side, more R&D is required.

tubeshooter's picture
tubeshooter's picture
tubeshooter commented Tuesday, 19 Nov 2019 at 7:34pm

OK thanks Stu ., looking forward to see the dive suits roll out and hope Hayden gets his 'cut' so to speak. My paranoah underwater is getting worse , not so much above it.
On the surfing side , , I hope it works out , cheers

simba's picture
simba's picture
simba commented Tuesday, 19 Nov 2019 at 3:07pm

So far it sounds positive but its all going to come down to whether the wetsuit will become too cumbersome and lose its flexibility or become too weighty .Also cost will come into it i would imagine but its like anything, over time materials will get better and costs come down.

simba

simba's picture
simba's picture
simba commented Tuesday, 19 Nov 2019 at 4:47pm

Well channel nine news is going to talk about it very soon

simba

dellabeach's picture
dellabeach's picture
dellabeach commented Tuesday, 19 Nov 2019 at 5:37pm

Is this the same guy?
I first saw this a couple of years ago and thought it would also be great when surfing shallow barnacle-encrusted/coral reefs.
Sew it and they will buy :)

https://vimeo.com/238358956?fbclid=IwAR1wJDYJ1RpymhAJ2OsSSmeLbgUFO3VhF4g...

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Tuesday, 19 Nov 2019 at 5:41pm

Impressive

simba's picture
simba's picture
simba commented Tuesday, 19 Nov 2019 at 6:19pm

Loved his dedication...pulls material away from thigh to find gaping wounds.....seems like its been done before.

simba

tango's picture
tango's picture
tango commented Tuesday, 19 Nov 2019 at 9:23pm

Ha! Love the scientific risk-free approach.....he was a Kiwi, wasn't he...?

lost's picture
lost's picture
lost commented Wednesday, 20 Nov 2019 at 1:43pm

For sure. I'd love something for tropical coral reefs that protects the knees but isn't hot. See my comments below.

knB

truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher commented Wednesday, 20 Nov 2019 at 2:48am

A sarcophagus bound to a deflector shield that wards off icky waves & marine life.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UijhbHvxWrA

To think some prefer the harsh reality of surfing naked in the mall wave pool.
https://dailyhive.com/calgary/naked-pool-night-southland-january-2018

Whole world had lost all sense of reality...then you pinch yourself...just a bad dream!

the-u-turn's picture
the-u-turn's picture
the-u-turn commented Wednesday, 20 Nov 2019 at 1:09pm

...onto Hayden. Well, lovely to see the old salt still at it. For the South Australian's Hayden's business, Island Surf, was an institution.

He could (and did his best too) sell ice to Eskimo's. You walked in and whether you needed a board or not he did his best to ensure you walked out the door with one. The hey-days of the shop we're no doubt the roaring 1980's and the advent of surf videos. He let many of us sit on the floor and watch surf movies for hours on end on a wet, cold and miserable winter's day, minimum chips at 50c. Grateful for that.

Importantly Hayden was a surfer first and businessman second - to his detriment. He could have walked away from it all with a bagful, rather he had a few pockets with coins & notes rather than rolls & wads. He's got stories to tell, and he tells them well.

The U Turn
...a little Aloha goes a long way.

lost's picture
lost's picture
lost commented Wednesday, 20 Nov 2019 at 1:41pm

Away from sharks and thinking about more day to day applications....

On every indo boat trip I've ever done I've taken major skin off one or both knees (usually on day one !) which then never heals and becomes ulcer like and painful by the end of the trip and beyond. I wear reef boots to great effect to save my feet (yep my mates pay out on me but too old to care). I don't love them but would rather surf all day every day and not risk being out of action from the many feet gashes I've seen. So have often thought what could I do to protect my knees. This article got me thinking....

A very thin neoprene or lycra 3/4 pant with this new fabric around the knees would be awesome. Could be worn under board shorts so you don't look like a total tosser and also solve for board short rash. I'd buy it for sure. Probably not knock the knee on the reef once then but i'd still be happy with the investment.

knB

gregstock's picture
gregstock's picture
gregstock commented Wednesday, 20 Nov 2019 at 2:16pm

Old mate from Brighton SA doing good ...we need a couple of these suits off Brighton Jetty at the moment Hayden!

Shaun Hanson's picture
Shaun Hanson's picture
Shaun Hanson commented Wednesday, 20 Nov 2019 at 4:06pm

I doubt surfers will buy it unless its the same price as a normal wetsuit even then i dont think they will sell...there is currently devices out there that work particually the WA designed one ive in all my boards for years easy to install and trannsferable from board to board ..they cost the same as a wetsuit and last for yrs and i know they work being a life long commercial fisherman ive watched how sharks react to them behind trawlers etc and can tell you there has been a huge increase in numbers ask any commercial fisherman in QLD NSW ..every body who sees them in my boards is impressed an very interested but thats as far as they go ..i never see anybodyelse using them ..every body in reunion island is using them as for the wetsuit it might limit the damage from a bite but id rather discourage any interaction with buggars ...got wonder about us aussies takes a while to get with the program

Pastmypeak

hamishbro's picture
hamishbro's picture
hamishbro commented Friday, 22 Nov 2019 at 9:37pm

I know how they’ll buy it - as an upgrade. Just imagine - don’t get a rip curl e-bomb, don’t even get a rip curl h-bomb - what you need, Mr Margaret River / Cactus / South Wall Ballina, is an S-Bomb. That’s right, a fully seamed winter wetsuit - with added shark armour. Just $650. Plus, we’ll throw in a shark shield for $1200 total. That’s right, equip yourself with the latest in shark defence for a twentieth the price of a prosthetic limb.

simba's picture
simba's picture
simba commented Wednesday, 20 Nov 2019 at 7:08pm

Shaun which device do you have installed in your boards?

simba

Shaun Hanson's picture
Shaun Hanson's picture
Shaun Hanson commented Thursday, 21 Nov 2019 at 7:37am

Gday Simba i have the RPELA a fella from western australia designed them ive used them for 5 yrs or more and they are robust and idiot proof which is good for me .. im not saying there fail safe if every situation but most sharks have a look first even if you dont see them if there not interested they will generally move on ...

Pastmypeak

gibbsy's picture
gibbsy's picture
gibbsy commented Thursday, 21 Nov 2019 at 8:06am

From my understanding and limited investigation, sharks have a surprisingly weak bite strength relative to other predators, largely due to the archaic construction of their mouths- they are an evolutionary throwback, and stronger, crushing jaws such as those of crocodiles appeared much later. They compensate for this by incredibly sharp, flat, (as opposed to round) teeth and the ability to actually drive their prey against the resistance of the water by the power of their tail. This compensates for the lack of 'crushing power'.
Without having medical reports to consider, I'd wager that any internal damage to prey would be mostly likely to be laceration of organs. Victims almost invariably die from blood loss, and picutres of bite victims indicate little if any bruising.
A few years ago when the far nth coast was going mad, I actually started researching fabrics myself to integrate into wetshorts to wear under wetsuits, such as kevlar, reasoning that the right material, if strong and flexible enough,would prevent puncture and protect the femoral artery (in particular).
It was an interesting exercise, but I couldnt be assed taking it any further. I do believe that it is the way forward in bite minimisation(obviously bite prevention is the ideal) and I reckon this guy is on to something. I hope it works out!

Shaun Hanson's picture
Shaun Hanson's picture
Shaun Hanson commented Thursday, 21 Nov 2019 at 8:28am

Agree if it can be built into an affordable user freindly product great ...and best of luck to the bloke having a go to create something ... to me most poeple who i talk to just assume it will never happen to them and it probably wont so they dont bother with any sort of preventative devices but if you surf in shark prone areas on your own or in remote areas its a little peice of mind...

Pastmypeak

Ray Shirlaw's picture
Ray Shirlaw's picture
Ray Shirlaw commented Thursday, 21 Nov 2019 at 10:13am

For fucks sake. For the last time,its Peace, not Peice. And even if it were Peice it would be piece

Shaun Hanson's picture
Shaun Hanson's picture
Shaun Hanson commented Thursday, 21 Nov 2019 at 10:21am

Apoligies Ray will try to remember not to forget how to spell or use peace peice or piece inaparproprealtty

Pastmypeak

Ronson's picture
Ronson's picture
Ronson commented Friday, 22 Nov 2019 at 11:08am

if one more cunt says "stronger than neoprene" I'm gonna freak out

Spuddups's picture
Spuddups's picture
Spuddups commented Saturday, 23 Nov 2019 at 6:46am

Thanks for the heads up. I'll make sure I don't say stronger than neoprene any time soon.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Friday, 22 Nov 2019 at 11:12am

Peice out, dude.

batfink's picture
batfink's picture
batfink commented Monday, 25 Nov 2019 at 5:48pm

Protecting femoral artery is probably the main life saving aspect. Having a big fucker come for you may not prevent serious internal injuries and consequent drowning. Could turn a quick death into a slow and painful one

Let's face it, most of us are hoping never to meet one heading for us in the surf. Most of us will enjoy a life without an incident.

Good luck though, wish him well.

Great idea for divers though, very little downside there.

Protection from coral is a very good use though and wouldn't be hard to make knee guards from the material.

Coral grazes, every surfer has a story.