The History of Gecko Head Gear
Told through a Q&A with Gecko founder and CEO, Jeff Sacree’
The history of Gecko starts with Jeff, who originally from Exmouth has now lived in Bude for 23 years. A keen swimmer, surfer and guitarist Jeff has become an integral part of the local community thanks to his involvement in the Bude Surf Veterans plus his dedication as a volunteer cetacean rescuer. Jeff is a family man with three grown-up sons, all of whom have followed in his surfing fin trails.
Q: Jeff, what inspired you to set up Gecko Head Gear?
A: I was making surfboards when I decided I wanted a surf helmet, but I couldn’t find anything suitable to buy so I used my fibre glassing experience and made one for myself. My helmet got quite a bit of interest from other local surfers, which gave me the idea to start manufacturing them commercially. It all took off from there!
Q: Why did you decide to set up this business in Bude, Cornwall?
A: Largely because I was living in Bude at the time; I’d recently returned from France where I’d been for a few years and wanted to live somewhere on the north coast of Cornwall – for the surf of course! We tried a few different places and ultimately settled in Bude where I found work glassing surfboards – most of my work experience beforehand was very hands on practical stuff so surfboard manufacturing was the ideal thing for me. When the work dried up during the winter, I decided to set up my own surfboard brand and Gecko surfboards was born.
Q: What do you like about living in Bude?
A: Bude is a special place; it’s on the border of Devon and Cornwall which gives easy access to both counties, but it’s also conveniently remote being an hour from Exeter, an hour from Barnstaple and an hour from Plymouth – so you have to go out of your way to get here. It’s a great place to surf being on the north Cornish coast, we’ve got a good variety of beach and reef breaks – and the people here are extremely friendly.
Q: Where do you like to surf locally?
A: I can’t tell you that! I love Northcott, it’s an ideal spot for me because it’s close to where I live. I used to be based further south, near Upton, and back then I would regularly be found surfing spots like Widemouth, Black Rock and Wanson. We’re lucky that we have so many breaks to choose from in Bude.
Q: Do you wear a helmet for surfing?
A: It depends on where I’m surfing; on the whole, I do wear a helmet; it keeps me warm, comfortable, safe and my head buoyant – I feel like I’ve got too much to lose by not wearing one. That said, if I’m surfing a local beach break on a small day in the summer, the chances are I won’t wear one.
Q: What makes Gecko helmets different to other helmets on the market?
A: Originally, the surf helmet, our first helmet, only had one direct competitor which was the Gath surf helmet – and while both are great helmets Gecko introduced and patented the inflatable liner and this is what really sets the two products apart. The inflatable liners now come with all Gecko helmets and are replaceable and interchangeable.
Q: Tell me more about the inflatable liner!
A: Over the last 20 years in developing helmets for various people we’ve realised that heads really do come in all shapes and sizes and it’s very hard to produce a universally sized product that is comfortable for everyone. We tried all the traditional lining methods such as ratchets, foam liners and various types of size-specific liners and then we came up with the idea of an inflatable liner – which of course is not only good for achieving a good fit but it adds buoyancy to your head should you experience a wipe-out and it adds a thermal layer to the helmet. It works like this; you deflate the liner before you put the helmet on, put it on then you open the valve and it self-inflates (because the pressure outside is greater than the vacuum that you’ve created). The liner then expands to your head size at which point you close the valve and it’s good to go! You can also self-inflate the liner orally if you like a really snug fit.
Q: Besides surfing, what other helmet uses do Gecko cater for?
A: Well, the main helmet we produce and supply worldwide is the open face marine safety helmet which is used by emergency services including the RNLI, fire brigade, rescue operations, the Navy and is also used commercially on small fast watercrafts such as ribs. We produce a cut away version of this helmet, which leaves the ear section exposed to fit ear protectors for use in noisy environments, and a full face version of the helmet for powerboat racing and jet skiing. The surf helmet is a lighter design and is suitable for an array of activities such as surfing, kitesurfing, windsurfing and wakeboarding. We’ve even recently been working on a cycle helmet – we’ve got the expertise and continue to develop products as and when we see a new niche market or are commissioned by someone else to create something specific.
Q: I gather that Gecko are pretty big players in the marine safety market, how did this come about?
A: After I designed the surf helmet I heard that the RNLI were looking to replace what they were using at the time, which was a motorcycle helmet – which of course is not designed to be used in salt water at all; it gets very heavy when wet and it’s large, which can cause problems due to what we call the bucket effect; this is where the helmet fills up with water if the wearer becomes submerged, causing their head to become negatively buoyant. Conversely, Gecko helmets are always positively buoyant when being used with the inflatable liner. The three years that followed I worked closely with the RNLI developing a helmet exclusively for them that met their very specific requirements, and when this was released to market other organisations such as the MOD, the Met Police and the Coastguard approached us asking for a similar product. Since then the helmet has spread through Europe and is now sold all over the world to major marine organisations including Navy’s, Police Forces and Emergency Services.
Q: How are Gecko helmets made?
A: Initially they were all hand made by myself, but with rising demand, I had to adapt and streamline the process and took extra staff on to help me meet the demand. All the helmets were, and still are, made to order in our factory in Bude. As we grew larger we refined our processes and outsourced some elements of the helmet manufacturing process to third parties, such as the inflatable liners, but wherever possible we keep things in house and anything that involves fibre glassing is still done by hand.
Q: How are the helmets tested for safety?
A: We first started looking at helmet accreditations when I developed the original RNLI helmet because they wanted some sort of official verification of the product. I approached the British Standards Institution (BSI) asking them what the standard for marine safety was and while there was a canoeing / white water standard for helmets (BS EN 1385:2012) there wasn’t a higher grading appropriate for commercial marine environments – and so working closely with both BSI and the RNLI we developed a new standard (PAS 028:2002). Gecko marine safety helmets are currently the only helmets in the world to meet the new standard!
Q: What are your plans for the future?
A: Gecko are always working on product development whether it be improving on our existing helmet models or creating new ones, such as the cycle helmet that I mentioned earlier. Right now, we have Gecko One in the pipeline; this will be a standard model of each Gecko helmet batch-produced in one colour with accessories included by default; we’ll keep the generic helmets in stock so that customers can buy online for next day delivery. We are also on the cusp of launching our new ballistic helmet, a combat-appropriate version of the open face for use by armed forces who carry firearms and operate within a marine environment. And finally, we are developing a cap, a product aimed at the sailing and canoeing markets to meet their very specific needs. So watch this space!