In October of 1938 E.I. du Pont de Nemours’ Vice President, Charles Stine made a bold statement to 3000 women at the Eighth Annual Forum on Current Problems. “To this audience… I am making the first announcement of a brand new chemical textile fiber. This fiber is the first man-made organic textile fiber prepared wholly from new materials from the mineral kingdom. I refer to the fiber produced as nylon… Though wholly fabricated from such common raw materials as coal, water, and air, nylon can be fashioned into filaments as strong as steel, as fine as a spider’s web, yet more elastic than any of the common natural fibers.”
A heavy call, but through the middle third of the 20th Century, that promise came true and surfers rejoiced. Similar to the transition from balsa to fiberglass and resin in the 1950s, nylon was a synthetic material that came along in the 1930s and rescued humanity from the perils of wool.
Up until the 1930s, most bathers and surfers were stuck in wool bathing costumers. Yuck. Wool was itchy and scratchy and absorbed seven times its weight in the water. Around 1935, science intervened in the form of a DuPont scientist named Wallace Carothers who developed a synthetic replacement for silk – a polymer that was first used for toothbrush bristles, then nylon stockings and parachutes through World War II.
After World War II nylon was one of the wartime technologies that was applied to civilian use. As surfboards were transitioning from balsa to fiberglass and resin, surf trunks were transitioning from cotton to canvas to nylon.
By the 1960s, the “beach moms” making trunks for kids along the California coast were switching from canvas to nylon. Surf trunks made of nylon were softer, fast-drying, more comfortable, and at times more durable.