Vocations: Saving lives in the Big Surf
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LOS ANGELES, June 26 — Andrew Reinhart, 30, is a surf product developer at Patagonia in Ventura, California.
Q: How long have you worked at Patagonia?
A: Full time, 10 years, but I was in the company’s day care programme at 2 years old. My family moved here from Utah when my mother was offered a job as a product developer in another department.
Q: What surfing products do you work on?
A: Currently, I’m on a team that’s developing a portable self-inflation vest to help big-wave surfers who wipe out and are thrashed around by the water. Big-wave surfing can be dangerous. Pulling a cord, or handle, inflates the vest and brings people to the surface quickly so they can get air. It’s not commercially available yet. We have some in-house testers, and we’ve also given about 400 of them to top big-wave surfers to test for us.
Q: What’s something innovative you’ve done?
A: Recently, I was using a heat gun to shrink about 500 cords that inflate a prototype vest. When I thought about how long it was going to take to do each one individually, I had an idea. I took them home and baked them in batches in my oven. I used a cookie sheet and a digital thermometer and was able to finish in two hours what otherwise may have taken me two days.
Q: Do you test the vest yourself?
A: No, I’m not a big-wave surfer. I’ve dipped my toe in, but I leave the scary big ones for the pros and go after the smaller waves. I do test other products for the company. I surf, scuba-dive and free-dive, where you hold your breath for long periods and descend to deep depths. I also do rock climbing, spearfishing from my boat and backcountry skiing. Because of my outdoor background, designers or other developers will pull me in to ask for my perspective.
Q: How fun is your job?
A: Extremely fun. I get to travel to places like Chile and Hawaii to attend safety conferences and get feedback from our testers. But it’s more than just fun. It’s gratifying to know that this vest can help save lives. Last year in Punta de Lobos, Chile, at a big-wave competition, I was helping the surfers when a woman holding a child came up to me and hugged me. She thanked me and said her husband had a vest that had saved his life. It was a pretty emotional moment for both of us. — The New York Times