The region of Western Australia has given the surfing world many gifts over the years. It’s produced slab savants like Jack Robinson, Jay Davies and Taj Burrow. Underground hellmen like the Brown Brothers, Imogen Caldwell. The best onshore air sections on earth and of course, the Gath Helmet.
One of the more recent additions you might not be aware of, however, came back in 2013, with the founding of a new premium wetsuit brand called Volte. Born of a collaboration between renowned local surfers Patrick Leahy and Phil Corbett (father of chargers Mick and Dan), although the company itself is still young, it calls on over 40 years of industry experience.
For Patrick, it all began back in the early 80s. After several years with Santosha surfboards, alongside some of the best shapers in Australia, he one day decided to turn his hand to cutting neoprene instead, founding West Wetsuits in ‘82.
Under Patrick’s guidance, the company went from strength over the proceeding decades and by the turn of the Millenium, had become one of the most recognisable surf brands on earth. However, in an all too familiar scenario, by the late naughts non-surfing execs looking to fill their pockets stepped in with plans for global expansion, leaving the company unprepared for the financial crash and in 2013, it was placed into administration.
Patrick then got together with his mate Phil to found something new, built on the ethos that had seen West prosper for so many years while incorporating lessons learned from its demise. Together, they started Volte, a premium wetsuit brand, with innovation and community at its core.
Rather than join the online retail race to the bottom, they began by teaming up with select surf hardware shops to distribute their wares, choosing those that stood at the centre of their local surf communities.
“In this little town that I’m in here, there’s six surf shops,” explains Patrick, “but we only supply one. It’s owned by a guy who’s a lifetime member of the boardriders club, he does stuff for mental health and some work with indigenous kids, teaching them how to surf. He’s really involved in the community, but often quietly.”
Recently, Volte has expanded into selling through a few online retailers, so as to reach a more global audience. However, they’ve opted to preserve the ethos of their brick and mortar collaborations, only working with those e-shops authentically involved in surfing, rather than the online giants. The commitment to building the brand through carefully selected partnerships extends to their small team of ambassadors too.
“I remember back at the Margaret River Pro in 2017, when they had a series of heats at North Point,” recalls Patrick, “there was an image that just stuck in my head.”
It was late in the afternoon and the day was winding down when suddenly Sebastian Zietz found his way into the wave of the day, getting blown out into the channel, to riotous hoots from the booth.
“When he came out, the look on his face was the epitome of pure surf stoke,” says Patrick, “and I was just like, man if we ever have the opportunity to get a pro surfer on the team, he’s got to be the guy.” Two years later, the chance popped up and Volte signed him up without hesitation.
Beyond the Hawaiian, the brand also supports a host of up and coming groms at home in Aus, while in the US, they work with Damien Hobgood and Taylor Knox; two veterans of the sport, with a lifetime of wetsuit-wearing that means know quality when they see it.
And then, of course, there’s the sons of Phil the co-founder, renowned hellmen Mick and Dan Corbett, “true characters and proper ratbags,” according to Patrick, who test the suits at some of the heaviest waves on earth. Their feedback has proved invaluable, not only because of the ferocious spin cycles they put the suits through but also because they have little problem telling their old man if a prototype is not completely up to the job.
When it comes to designing the suits, Patrick says their number one mantra has always been only the best materials will do. “To me, there’s no point in trying to save a dollar on a wetsuit when you can make a really good product without compromising on materials,” he says. That means the best neoprene, made from limestone, not petroleum for reduced environmental impact, the best jersey and the best water-based glues. “Good foam keeps you warmer,” he elaborates, “it’s got more durability, it’s got more stretch, it’s got more… more goodness!”
“The biggest thing Patrick’s taught me,” says Volte employee John Harbin, “is the difference between innovation and marketing.”
“The ongoing joke in the industry a few years ago was that the biggest department in surf companies was the wetsuit marketing department who made up all the names,” laughs Patrick, “whereas we spend all our money on the R&D side of things.”
So far, word of mouth has served as Volte’s greatest marketing tool and while the team plan to expand the business over the coming years, the basic goal- of creating a product they can be proud of when they run into people wearing it in their local lineups – will undoubtedly remain unchanged.
All photos courtesy of @voltewetsuits