20 Questions: Max Blackburn – Immersion Research

Blister: So far, we’ve talked a lot about the deck and the rand, but let’s not neglect the third component of the skirt: the tunnel.

How do you guys try to make sure that the tunnel makes a good seal on the paddler’s torso and doesn’t leak water into the boat there?

Max: All our seams are glued, taped, and sewn, and the neoprene on the tunnel is super waterproof, so we hardly ever get any complains about skirts leaking through the tunnel.

But one thing we’ve done is to try to combat the very common problem of skirts moving around on the paddler’s torso while paddling (the tunnel can often move down or bunch up). So we’ve actually made an adjustment to our dry wear. We’ve been adding sticky silicone on the inside of the tunnels on our dry tops and drysuits so that the neoprene will catch on the silicone and stop moving around. It makes it drier and more comfortable as well.

Blister: It’s funny that you mentioned dry wear because even though this is a skirt interview, I did want to sneak in one question about what’s new with the IR dry wear. There are a bunch of stylish color options, but has anything else changed?

Max: Yeah, most people have definitely seen all these crazy colors. But the best way to explain what’s been happening with IR dry wear is to explain a bit about the company’s history. It started as a very small company in the basement of John and Kara when they were kayak instructors. They started making board shorts and layers, and those got really popular, so they started expanding.

When Mountain Surf in Friendsville, Maryland, stopped making spray skirts, there was a huge void left open, and IR really turned their focus to filling that void and making the best spray skirts in the world, which Mountain Surf had been doing up until then.

Blister: I know what you mean. I actually just retired my ten-year-old Mountain Surf skirt this past summer.

Max: Yeah! And so it was a huge void and we poured our energy into that. I think it’s pretty easy to say that the result is out there for people to see and we are now one of the leaders, if not the leader, in spray skirt technology.

So a couple of years ago we turned our focus to dry wear and are putting ton of energy into that. It’s to the point now to where we have a laminate/fabric combination that we are comfortable putting up against any other dry wear in the industry.

We have a few of the new 7-Figure drysuits that have been tested for about a year now– the one that I have has been on the water over 250 days between a few different testers—and it’s still bone dry. The new dry wear is durable and very comfortable, with a lot of emphasis put on the cut and fit.

20 Questions with Immersion Research, Blister Gear Review.
Max Blackburn, putting gear to the test.

Breathability is always an important factor, but with the laminate that we use, it’s not going to be quite as breathable as a teflon or a GORE-TEX laminate. But through all our testing, we’ve pretty much found that the difference is pretty negligible and just not that noticeable.

The big difference in the laminate that we’re using is that we think it is more durable and lasts longer.

I really encourage people to give it a try, because we are now really confident in the product. We know that the dry wear process has been a tough one with some ups and downs. We by no means can boast that we’ve had the best dry wear out there in the past, but we really feel that it’s now at that point where it can go head-to-head with the industry standard, and we’re just waiting for everyone to try it and realize that.

Blister: OK, back to skirts. We’re all between swims, so what about pull-tabs? What have you done to make it easier for a paddler to pop off the skirt and wet exit when needed?

Max: Well first, it should be noted that all rands and pull-tabs are put on at IR, so there’s a lot of care and quality assurance that goes into it. You have a kayaker that is going to be using this product actually putting these parts together. It’s not that hard of a thing to do correctly, but it’s important.

We’ve gone through a bunch of different pull-tabs over the years, and I’ll be the first to admit that the 2013 skirts had perhaps one of the worst pull-tab designs ever. It was slippery, flat, and hard to hold on to, or to get your hand inside. As soon as we started getting complaints about that, we switched to a different style that I think is one of the best pull-tabs out there.

It’s a corrugated rubber loop that is twisted in such a way that it stays erect and is easy to grab. That’s going to be what is on our skirts from here on out, and I think it’s a really safe design.

Blister: Could you briefly sum up what you personally think is the most important thing that consumers in general should know about spray skirts?

Max: Something that I think should be a more common mentality is simply that, once you are running class III and above, the spray skirt could be considered your most important piece of gear. It’s the difference between having fun paddling downstream and ending up in an unintentional swim situation. We make our skirts with that in mind. Spray skirts should be dry, easy to put on, and made to last, but we also make them to give people peace of mind.

The other thing to know is that especially with the new stretchy neoprene that we’re using, having the correct size is extremely important. We stand by our claims that IR skits are completely implosion resistant, but that’s not the case if you don’t have the right size. It’s really important to look at the size chart, check out skirtfit.com, call us or the boat manufacturer, and make sure you’re getting the proper deck size.

Blister: Do you see any major changes coming to IR’s skirt design?

Max: Well we are always looking for new materials and new types of neoprene that can allow for even more pressure without popping off. And durability is a huge focus as well. We’re using a new material called Nylar on our 2015 Lucky Charms and Klingons to provide more abrasion resistance around the cockpit rim.

We’d like to find ways to make rand skirts easier to put on, which has always been a complaint among certain users. Stretchier neoprene, stronger materials– that’s all on the table.

We’re also doing a lot to get boat manufacturers onboard with standardized cockpit sizes—that will be great for consumers.

Blister: Thank you Max, we’ll leave it there for now.

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