It’s more fun to make a laptop bag from an old
wetsuit than it is to buy one. By Saul Griffith
It’s easy to make money, as long as that’s all you wish though rough surf always found a way to open
to do. I find it easier to make things than to make everything up and throw cold water on your ideas
money, and it appears that that’s all I do. Fortunately and other sensitive body parts.
we live in a society where many raw materials are Jack’s first wetsuit was polyvinylchloride (PVC)
free as long as you have a few favorite dumpsters. glued to thin sheets of plastic in the form of a vest. It
The false economies of making your own stuff are was hard to work with, somewhat fragile, and wore
addictive. Most everything I own is an amalgam of out quickly.
trash reconfigured with a rather large and expensive Like most lifestyle surfers, odd jobs were the
set of scratched and greasy tools. It’s always a good order of the day and “Eureka!” came to Jack while
idea at the time: make a bicycle trailer (the store- he was carpeting the aisles of a DC-3 passenger
bought ones don’t suit my needs), build a kite, sew aircraft. Under the carpet was neoprene. It was used
a laptop bag. on planes as sound and thermal insulation. It is easy
Jack O’Neill was probably in a similar situation to bond, floats, and is flexible and robust.
when the surfing boom of the 1950s saw many Neoprene is a closed-cell foam. Closed-cell foams
Southern Californians enjoying a new lifestyle of are basically thousands of tiny bubbles surrounded
longboards and Woodies. He, however, was stuck by rubber where none of the bubbles join any others,
in San Francisco, as I am, where year-round water making it waterproof. Open-cell foams are those
temperatures hover in the 50s (Fahrenheit). Not to where all the bubbles intersect and overlap. These
be stopped cold in feeding his addiction of surfing, become waterlogged and don’t trap air, which is a
Jack set about pioneering the wetsuit. better insulator than any plastic or rubber by itself.
Like most backyard innovators, he started with Jack starting making wetsuits out of neoprene
that glorious jumble of the local surplus store and and an industry was born. Wetsuits have changed
its army/navy frogmen suits. Surfing was still small enormously since the 1950s with new designs, more
enough that most people knew most other people, supple materials and stretch zones, new stitches pat-
and everyone was hacking their gear to get more terns, and new glues to eliminate stitching altogether.
out of their passion. One contemporary of Jack’s Anyway, all of this is to say I just bought a new
was known for wearing a navy jumper soaked laptop, one of those cultish ones with the piece of
in Thompson’s water seal — better than coating fruit on the cover. It’s the first laptop I ever bought,
yourself in a thick layer of pig fat, but not the conve- because I’ve generally been able to convince the
nience they all yearned for. military-industrial-education complex to buy them
The frogmen suits were pieces of rubber glued for me. Fortunately, they never seemed to mind
together that — along with a layer of air trapped in that a laptop has a six-month life expectancy in the
your underwear — would provide some insulation, hands of a lifestyle surfer and cyclist. It’s a good idea