Anyone who has experienced stingray stings knows how painful they can be, so three UC San Diego graduates decided to develop footwear that can help protect against stingray stings.
“It was one of my mom’s friends who suggested the idea because she is from La Jolla and knows people get stung here by stingrays all the time,” said Randy lewis, one of the founders of DragonSkin.
Lewis said at the time, he and his friends got really into surfing and searched for footwear that could protect them while in the water, but did not find any, so they decided to take matters into their own hands.
The team, made up of science and engineering students, took three years to build the company, DragonSkin, from the bottom up. They had to research stingrays, used a lot of prototypes, and worked on marketing while trying to get production spun up.
So, how did they research stingray stings? By catching them.
"We talked to a bunch of fishermen at the pier and asked, 'Do you ever catch stingrays here?', 'How do you catch stingrays?' and one fisherman took us under his wing and showed us how to catch them," Lewis said. "And after we caught them, we measured their sting force and got the data we needed and then released them back into the ocean."
And how do you measure their sting force?
“We used a force meter and an eggplant,” Lewis said. “First, the force meter to measure the sting force, and then we created a pendulum that replicates that sting force, and to verify it, we would have them sting an eggplant because it's a good flesh analog.”
The booties, made up of neoprene and a "secret" puncture-resistant material, have up to 90% resistance.
What Stingrays Are Found in San Diego Waters?
The stingrays seen around San Diego County are usually round rays that can be found throughout California to Ecuador. Stingrays love coastal waters this time of year as we have warmer temperatures.
Every year, about 2,000 stingray injuries are reported in the U.S., according to the National Capital Poison Center.
A stingray's method of catching their prey is to hide in the sand and eat, but when people do not see them and disturb them, that's when they will sting people.
"They are not aggressive, but they sting in response to danger," said Lewis.
What to Do If You Are Stung by a Stingray
If you cannot get the booties, what can you do to protect yourselves if you are stung by a stingray?
“When the stingray is stepped on, the tail has a barb which comes up to sting the foot or the ankle,” said Lifeguard Sgt. John Maher. “So shuffling your feet and keeping them on the bottom, and moving slowly, you are giving the stingray enough time to see you and get out of the way because they don't want to get stepped on either.”
Lewis recommends those doing water sports stay on their boards as long as possible.
"Get on your board as soon as possible and stay on your board as long as possible," he said. "So when you are not touching the bottom, you are not significantly at risk."
The team decided to test out the waters to see how many people may be interested in the booties and opened their online store.
“Immediately, we were getting an outpouring of people wanting to buy them, and we decided to pause production and started to take interest forms to see who would want them," Lewis said.
Having produced the booties by hand, they decided to reach out to a manufacturer for mass production. They hope to receive a bulk order in the next couple of months so they can reopen their online store.
There's a chance Lewis won't end up on the wrong side of the stinger with these booties as he says he’s never been stung.
"I have not, and hope I never will be."