WORK / Consumer / Professional OBEX Protective Surf Hood

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Waves of Consequence 

Surfing embodies the draw towards nature, escaping into a flow state that connects you to the sea. In many ways, it is the antithesis of technology.

But technology could have a dramatic impact on preventing injury and death that is prevalent in the sport. Studies have shown that surfing is more popular than ever, but with this comes a notable increase in head injuries (Dean, 2018). Concussions can increase the risk of drowning due to the person’s confused, disoriented or unconscious state (Nathanson et al., 2002). Even a few seconds of unconsciousness can be fatal if there’s nobody around to rescue you

Several of our designers are keen surfers, so this problem is close to home. We wanted to find a solution that could help reduce surfer fatality without hindering surfers doing what they love. 

The major risk of head trauma for surfers is drowning, resulting from loss of consciousness in the water. Photo credit: David Sciora

OBEX Protective Surf Hood

Less than 2% of surfers reported a regular use of helmets believing it would impede their performance.
Photo credit: Francois Pele

OBEX Protective Surf Hood

How might we protect surfers without getting in the way of the activity?

OBEX Protective Surf Hood

Designing OBEX: Protective Surf Hood

The team at Design Partners created OBEX to solve that problem. OBEX is a surf hood with integrated sensors that activate an inflatable bladder (heat-sealed nylon urethane). This bladder is discreetly stored within the collar of the hood. Two canisters of C02 inflate the bladder. These are stored in a pocket between the shoulder blades. Both canisters are also connected to a separate pull tab located in the collar for manual activation if necessary.

The impact sensors that sense an incident are sandwiched between the neoprene and thermal layers using flexible circuitry. 

Seconds count when in difficulty at sea. Following a high impact collision, OBEX will inflate to keep the surfer safe, as well as alert fellow surfers both in the water through haptic notifications, and on land via the OBEX app.


Testing & Prototyping

OBEX Protective Surf Hood

Soft Goods are Hard 

Many companies have struggled to design compelling smart garments. Tech companies are too naïve when it comes to garment design, and the fashion industry struggles when it comes to hardware.  

The formula for wearables to succeed lies in the unification of the hard and soft goods disciplines. In response to this, we have built a specialist team of design, engineering, UX, garment and fabric expertise supported by advanced prototyping tools and facilities.

  OBEX Protective Surf Hood
  OBEX Protective Surf Hood

Augmenting our abilities

Our clothes will soon contain sensors that will dramatically improve our lives. Designers and entrepreneurs have the responsibility to conceive of truly purposeful applications of technology for people, and not simply embed novel technology into garments.  

The traditional methods of industrial design or fashion design will no longer suffice. A new, interdisciplinary team is necessary for this future. 

Closer collaboration between design, engineering and apparel experts, will deliver smart garments that bring incredible experiences that augment our abilities and wellbeing.  


Designing Smart Garments

Imagine a fireman who can see through the densest smoke, an athlete who can measure the recovery of a damaged ligament in real-time or a surfer whose wet suit can save their life. Meaningful wearables will popularize where the needs are greatest, in areas such as first-responders, home healthcare, and performance sports. As designers, our responsibility is to equip these people with new tools that enhance their ability to perform in their demanding environments – to use technology in a way that elevates their potential. The more intimate and integrated the technology becomes, the better these users can focus on the things that matter. 


OBEX: Protective Surf Hood is a project created by Design Partners to showcase their creative process, innovative approach and wearable-technology design expertise. Even in activities like surfing, where people escape to nature, embedded technology can be a life-saving companionThrough design, iteration, and prototyping of future experiences, Design Partners seek to elevate human potential. 

Our expert teams are available if you would like to arrange a meeting to discuss the OBEX Protective Surf Hood or smart garment design in general. You can email us at or you can connect through our LinkedIn page.

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Great innovation is achieved through collaboration. We would love to hear about your business & creative challenges and how we can help you create innovative, new product experiences.