Sometimes the very best products are realised through incremental advances. But when new, radically different materials become available it’s far better to rethink the solution from scratch. Zhik has always had the confidence to do this, even when the result is a product that looks like none of the competition.
Since its inception two decades ago, Zhik has sought to be different. Not for the sake of it, but from a belief that existing manufacturers were failing to harness developments in technical fabrics that could offer a step-change in the comfort and effectiveness of sailing clothing.
This relentless drive for perfection was born of a passion for innovation that pushes technical boundaries and remains at the heart of Zhik’s ethos. The Zhik Seaboot 700 is a classic example. It’s the latest generation top-level offshore boot from Zhik’s collaboration with Dongfeng Race Team as part of that team’s preparation for the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18 (whch they won).
Unlike traditional alternatives, the Seaboot 700 is lightweight and flexible, weighing just 500g per boot and providing sneaker-like agility. Yet it offers complete protection, is suitable for both cruising and offshore racing, and is sufficiently robust for commercial use.
It’s the product of rigorous testing regimes both in the lab and with top level athletes on the water. The latter includes double Route du Rhum winner Yoann Richomme, James Harayda of Gentoo and Alan Roberts.
Key features include the highly breathable, fully waterproof eVent membrane. A hidden lace pocket prevents snagging while a onehanded quick lace system ensures a secure fit and easy donning.
The lightweight construction that’s important to maximise agility includes a rip-stop outer facing for durability and longevity, a high-stretch zippered gaiter to improve aerodynamics and an elastic hem to prevent water ingress. There’s also a durable anti-corrosion zip.
Both inner and mid-soles are cushioned and supportive to maximise comfort. A Michelin multi-compound rubber is used on the outer sole in combination with a high grip tread pattern to maximise performance. The multiple pull-on and hanging loops that facilitate stowage and make getting the boots on and off as easy as possible are an outcome of a painstaking analysis of ergonomics.
The need for innovation in the dinghy and the small-boat sailing market after the Athens Olympics in 2004 provided the initial impetus to found a new sailing clothing brand. The Australian firm quickly built a reputation as an industry leader in the dinghy classes, before turning its attention to technical gear for racing sports boats and offshore yachts.
So what do the athletes think of the final product in this case? ‘The Seaboot 700 is a perfect fit between a shoe and real heavy boots,’ says Richomme. ‘They breathe quite nicely, it was hot and I wore cotton socks inside for two days to try and see if I could sweat but they handled it very well. And the sole is perfect grip wise.’
Following almost a decade in the Figaro class, Alan Roberts is now a frequent sight in the Imoca 60 fleet as part of Boris Herrmann’s Team Malizia and skippered the boat for part of The Ocean Race, which they won. ‘I received the new boots just before the Rolex Fastnet Race, wore them for the whole race and really loved them,’ he says. ‘I’d go as far as to say the most comfortable boot I have been in. My feet stayed dry and they were lightweight.’
Input from such high-level sailors across its entire range means Zhik has a history packed full of achievement, despite being one of the youngest high-performance sailing brands in the world. Current partnerships include work with Olympic medallists, America’s Cup winners and round the world race winners, as well as the sponsorship of six of the 10 SailGP teams competing this season.
Zhik is also just as passionate about sustainability as it is about performance and is reducing its environmental impact through initiatives such its first neoprene free wetsuit, the development of PCF-free water-repellent jackets and use of fibres from recycled plastics.
The company also benefits from a strong network of independent dealers and distributors in 49 countries that are served by warehouses in Australia, the Netherlands and the USA. It’s a solid base for continued global expansion.