For big wave surfers, dealing with volatile ocean conditions has always been part of the sport. While inflatable surfing vests have been on the market for years, they have not been made readily available to the masses. Surf brand giant Quicksilver has teamed with scuba diving gear manufacturer Aqua Lung to produce the Highline Airlift vest — the first inflatable surf vest to be accessible to the general public — raising margins of safety for big wave surfers around the globe.
Patagonia’s PSI vest was greeted enthusiastically back in 2013 but requires buyers to provide proof of big wave training certification. The Highline Airlift vest is the product of a two-year accumulation of research and collaboration between engineers and big wave riders. The product’s streamlined design ensures the vest can be worn anywhere, anytime regardless of wave conditions or water temperature.
The vest is inflated using compressed CO2 — similar to avalanche airbags used by backcountry skiers. There are four different pull tabs that will inflate the vest, located at easily accessible areas on the chest. Pulling one of the tabs activates a carbon dioxide cartridge that inflates a nylon-urethane compartment which provides buoyancy for surfacing. A deflation valve situated away from the inflation tabs allows a surfer to deflate the vest after they’ve risen to the surface so they can quickly paddle back out and regain their position in the lineup. The tab’s separate location serves to avoid any accidental deflations.
The Highline Airlift vest was designed to be versatile and can be worn as a stand-alone vest or over any type of wetsuit. The vest is made of Quicksilver’s proprietary FN’lite neoprene which has been tested to ensure it maintains its form even after numerous inflation cycles. The product’s sleek design ensures that performance will not be hindered, even when paddling out into the biggest sets.
The brand strongly states that its product is designed to make the sport safer for experienced big wave surfers and is not to be used as a performance enhancer. Quicksilver requires an in-store consultation with a specially trained safety agent before purchase. Although legally regarded as a personal flotation device (PFD) in the European Union, it has yet to gain recognition as such in the U.S. or Australia. The Highline Airlift vest is rated to EN ISO 12402-5 11.2006 + A1 07.2010 standards as a buoyancy assistant.
The product retails for $990 and will be available on October 15 at select retail outlets around the globe.