Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanks, Iain

It's Thanksgiving, and there are many people and things that I am thankful about. But I'll dedicate this to the man who made the picture above possible: Iain Smith, the inventor of the Ianovated wetsuit.

That's me in the picture above, getting ready to windsurf in Wellfleet Harbor earlier today. It was a lovely and sunny day, but air temperatures had dropped from mid-50s yesterday to 34ºF (1ºC) today. Wind meter readings were around 30 mph WNW - too good to not go windsurfing! Even last year, I probably would have stayed at home. Yes, I have sailed in similar temperatures before, but it's usually a gradual process - as it gets later in the year, we slowly get used to the lower temperatures.

Enter Iain. He is a dedicated British windsurfer who did not want to stop sailing in the winter, when the best winds come. Like many of us, Iain experimented with all kinds of gloves and mittens to keep his hands warm. He experienced the usual trade-offs: if gloves are warm enough to keep your hands comfortable, they will make your forearms very tired very quickly, cutting sessions short. But unlike most other cold-weather windsurfers, Iain has a "cold weather handicap" - Raynaud's disease. Wikipedia describes this as "excessively reduced blood flow in response to cold" - in other words, your hands get much colder, much faster.

But Iain did not give up. He experimented until he found a solution that works: a system to blow warm air onto your hands while you are windsurfing. In hindsight, it seems simple enough: blow into tubes through a snorkel mouthpiece; run the tubes through the inside of the suit to keep the air warm; and finally have the tubes emerge into mittens. After proving the concept, Iain then formed a company to manufacture and market the suit.

As many great inventions, the suit was met with a lot of skepticism and ridicule. On every windsurf forum where Iain posted about the suit, the vast majority of responses explained in lots of detail why such a system could never ever work (I have seen such posts on British, German, Polish, and US forums). But on each forum, there would also be a few windsurfers who tried it out, and reported back that the "tube suit" worked not just well, but amazingly well. I got one of the Ianovated suits last winter, and it kept amazing me  for many sessions in a row, even after I knew that it worked well. My lovely wife, who had no intentions of buying a new wetsuit, tried the Ianovated suit once, and bought it right away. We sailed through the winter using open-palm mitts, even when the water temperature was close to freezing (we did, however, only sailed on days where the air temperature was above, or at least close to, the freezing point).

Many of my windsurfing friends have told me that they stop sailing because their hands get too cold. So after trying and loving the Ianovated suit, I hoped that I might be able to get some of my friends to try it, and also enjoy some of the best windsurfing of the year - cold weather windsurfing. Yesterday, I was very happy to see two friends try their new Ianovated suits for the first time. Not surprisingly, they (a) were surprised how well the hand warming system works, and (b) loved the suit.  Today, my suit gave me the confidence to go out after a 22-degree temperature drop in 24 hours. As expected, it kept me nice and warm the entire time, and I had a blast windsurfing on a beautiful sunny, if chilly, day. So once again: thank you, Iain!

Below are a couple of pictures that my lovely wife took, and a short video from one of the runs today.

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