If you want to test out apparel made specifically for getting wet, it helps to do so on the manufacturer’s home turf. And if that turf involves surf, so much the better. Such was the case when, on vacation in Maui, we found ourselves Supping with Bluesmiths founder John Smalley, whose apparel line is making waves as fast as its wearers are catching them….
We met Smalley at the Kanaha beach, where friend and local SUP legend Loch Eggers shuttled us upwind past the town of Pa’ia to the oceanside home of SUP filmmaker and oceansports pioneer Mike Waltz. From there, after a quick break through the surf it was all downwind 10 miles back to Kanaha, with a quick detour to the outside break at Spartan’s to test his apparel in the surf.
After scouring the world for the best fabrics and technologies he could find — and testing them in the Bluesmiths R&D Lab of Maui’s North Shore – Smalley’s primary products include the popular Spartan board short and Lane and Kanaha water shirts, which excel for everything from supping to sea kayaking and river running.
The concept is simple: the products have been designed and tested and re-designed and re-tested, all to produce watersports apparel Bluesmiths believes out-performs, out-lasts and out-fits anything else on the market. Keen attention to detail has resulted in apparel without any corrosive parts (i.e. no metal) or materials that can end up misshapen, such as hook and loop closures).
In designing them, Smalley had to satisfy two seemingly conflicting needs: staying cool while working really hard and, alternatively, retaining warmth by drying quickly. The answer came from Switzerland’s Schoeller, makers of NanoSphere, a high-performance technology that repels water, while retaining breathability. They also add such touches as the PaddleSaver, an optional attachment to the Spartan short that helps you swim back to shore with your paddle (“It was born out of necessity,” says Smalley. “We’ve had some really long swims back to shore.”)
The shorts are also fabric finished with Coldblack, which keeps you cooler in direct sunlight while also offering a sun reflective and UV protective treatment, as well as antimicrobial Active Silver™ to reduce odor.
“We source the most advanced materials and turn them into the kind of hardworking and great-fitting gear that fits our lifestyle,” says Smalley, who’s spent years chasing world speed records for wind-surfing. “Then we test and re-test on the North Shore and perfect each detail, until we’re sure it can handle all we are going to throw at it. We basically live for the ocean and spend every spare moment we can in the water. We build better gear for what we do – because our customers do it, too.”
The tactic works. Despite our rookie plunges into the Pacific and various pummelings, short and shirt worked great, and proved the least of our worries in the waves. The shorts have pockets in all the right places (including a nifty toggle for your keys), fit where they’re supposed to, and most importantly, absorb less water than a napkin coaster soaking up condensation after a day’s paddle. You can’t wring them out because there’s nothing to wring. As for the tops, they’d work equally well under a drytop paddling Class V or as a warm sun barrier supping swell in the Pacific.
“We don’t want to build more gear, just better gear,” says Smalley, crediting mainland partners and designers Paul “Krak” Arntson and Erika Howry-Clark. “We`re driven to develop gear that out-performs anything we can find. Where we live is like a real-time research and development lab, but one where everyone wears board-shorts instead of lab-coats. If our product works here, it’ll work anywhere.”
“We’re based out of Maui for a reason,” he adds. “It’s one of the best places in the world to build, test and develop new gear…”