It’s not that singer and songwriter Summer Watson likes to flash her boobs at strangers. But bikinis have a way of succumbing to the ocean’s tug, and more than once, this surfer has lost some part of her swimsuit to the waves. “Every once in a while you get a nip slip,” says Watson, the marketing director at San Clemente, California's Toes of the Noes surf shop. “But usually it’s your bottoms that you lose.”
Yet Watson—like many women—still prefers to wear a bikini while surfing. “I like the feeling of the ocean on my skin,” she explains. Patagonia was hearing the same thing from its surfing ambassadors. “They feel most unencumbered in a bikini,” says Laura Kinman, Patagonia’s product line director of women’s sportswear and surfing. So she searched for a way to make the beloved bikini more sport-ready.
“I don’t see a lot of people trying to create women’s products that are specifically built for sport and that’s discouraging,” says Kinman. “In surfing, all the swimwear innovation is happening on the men’s side of the business,” she explains. Men get gee-whiz seams that are bonded or glued to reduce chafing while sitting on the board. But for women? “The focus is always on what’s a cute print,” Kinman says.
So in 2014, when she discovered a strange, slightly sticky new fabric that became even grippier when wet, she felt like she’d found the solution to the slipping-bikini problem. She built a few prototypes and took them to Oahu’s North Shore, where Patagonia’s team of female surfing ambassadors put them to the test. “They were a huge hit,” says Kinman. “The women didn’t have to tug or fidget or move that fabric around. They could just be fully engaged in their sport.”
What makes the fabric sticky is its massive surface area: the material is made up of thousands of microscopic polyester filaments, measuring 1/175,000th the thickness of a human hair. They make the swimsuit feel clingy—almost wet—even when it’s dry.
It’s not for every woman, says Kinman. Lake paddleboarders, who don’t encounter fabric-nudging waves, might be happier with a standard bikini. And the Nanogrip fabric is particularly slow to dry (requiring an hour or more, in my experience).
But I also found it to be wonderfully forgettable when I was in the water. Wearing it while snorkeling in Belize, I found that I could abandon some of the security measures I’ve habitually used to hide bathing-suit-slippage. I didn’t have to hold my arm across my breasts when emerging from the water, or hold onto my bottoms when I dove. That’s liberating.
Watson had a similar experience. "The Nanogrip is pretty amazing," she says. "It's the first bikini I have ever worn bodysurfing that is comfortable and cute, yet I don't have to stay under water a few minutes more to adjust before surfacing."
The Nanogrip Top ($69-$75), which hit market last summer, fits B-DD cups. The Side Tie Bottoms ($65-69) also debuted last year. This year, the line expands with the fuller-coverage Nanogrip Bottoms ($65-$69) and the Triangle Top ($69-$75), which fits A cups. Spring 2018 will introduce a full-coverage Nanogrip top styled like a sports bra for better sun protection.