Wetsuits, an essential piece of equitment


Some people may wonder why I wear a full exposure suit in the warm waters of Hawaii.  A few reasons.  First a full suit offers some protection from the reef should I accidentally brush up against something.  We try our best not to but it happens from time to time and having a layer of protection is good. 

Second, when you live in Hawaii you don’t think the water is that warm.  I know several people who wear 5, 7 or even 9mm exposure suits year round.  Most of these people have little body fat to keep them warm. 

I wear a 3mm suit and I usually don’t get cold.  If I didn’t wear it though, I would get cold.  When you dive down the water temp can change at what we, in diving, call a thermocline.  This is not usually the case on shallow dives but it’s noticeable on deeper ones. 

Last, I wear my suit so that I don’t have to worry about becoming cold.  The longer the skin is exposed to the relatively cool water the colder a person becomes.   Remember that our body temperature is somewhere in the neighborhood of 98.6 degrees farenheit.  That means that even 80 degree water will cool the body over time. 

I am blessed with a gift for air consumption, as in I don’t consume much.  I dive with another person with this same gift but magnified.  This guy could stay under 2 hours on one 63cc tank.  No joke.  I have been out with this guy on a boat where he used a 63 and did 2 dives on one tank while the rest of the people used 80’s.  So, he and I can stay down for 75 to 90 minutes on one tank.   This is a long time to be exposed to the cool water.  So wearing my wetsuit allows me to more thoroughly enjoy a long dive. 

The reason I chose to talk about wetsuits today is that I have now owned 2 and I want to share my opinion on them.  I took one suit back to the store this week because I only had 25 dives on it and the seams are all coming unglued and the zipper has been fixed by my hubby 3 times already. 

My first exposure suit was a Waterproof Wetsuit 3mm.  I tried it on and, because I was new to wetsuits, had the retailer help me ensure a good fit.  Because I was new to wetsuits I thought I had a good fit.  What I didn’t realize is that this suit wasn’t very stretchy and was hard to get on and off.  I figured this out just this week when I tried another brand.  The 3mm suit was very thick and I always thought it was more like a 5mm because of the thickness of it.  From the get go I needed help zipping this suit from my buddy, which is no big deal.  Once I got the zipper up over my hips it usually went up smoothly.  But, when I tried to pull the zipper using the long string that is attached to help you, I broke the zipper.  The zipper on this suit seemed to be heavier duty than that ones on other suits I have seen.  The first time this happened was on a boat as we were prepping for a dive.  Luckily, my husband who repairs humvee’s for the military, was able to fix the zipper for the dive.  At that time we noticed a missing tooth.  Just the next week the zipper broke again as my buddy was trying to help me zip it up.  Again, my husband was able to repair it.  You can imagine that breaking a zipper in your exposure suit could really be a dive killer.  An exposure suit is not something most people carry a spare of when diving.  I carry fin and mask straps, o rings and even a spare mouth piece for my regulator but not an exposure suit.  It’s not cost-effective.  I also noticed that after about 20 dives the seams were peeling in several places.   If I had used this suit carelessly or put excessive strain on it I could understand but I did neither.  So, on Wednesday, I called the manufacturer to ask about a warranty on the suit and I was told to take it back to the retailer.  I did so and I’m waiting to hear what will be done about the problems.  I hope that they will replace the suit since it seems to be defective. 

Because of the problems with my original wetsuit I went to the xcel outlet store near me since I have heard wonderful things about their suits from my fellow divers and instructors alike.  The store manager was very helpful when I asked for my size she didn’t have it.  She offered to get it for me but also encouraged my to try a size smaller.  To my surprise, the smaller suit fit very well.  It was significantly easier to put on than my previous suit because it was more flexible.  It was also softer and felt better on.  To my surprise, the smaller suit fit well and zipped up very easily with no help from anyone else and it felt less restricting.  .  So, I purchased the suit and walked out excited to try it out, not to mention feeling a bit thinner since I was able to buy a smaller size than normal. 

Perhaps the first suit I purchased was a size too small.  But it was rigid and hard to put on.  I, being new to wetsuits, trusted the shop employee to tell me that I had a good fit.  And for a while it worked ok.  Wetsuits, in general, stretch when they get wet and therefore when I got the first suit wet it felt fine and I was assured that I had a good fit.

I still hope to get a replacement for the suit I sent back but so far I am loving my new suit and will probably wear it far more than any replacement that comes from the other manufacturer. 

So, my advice is to either go to a store that has exposure suits from multiple manufacturers or go to several stores and try different brands.  What feels good to you may vary from what feels good to me but in the end being comfortable diving is paramount.  Even a minor malfunction in exposure protection can ruin a dive.  You can’t enjoy your dive if you are uncomfortable.  So don’t be cheap, like me, buy a suit that feels good on even when it’s dry.  Trying multiple suits from multiple manufacturers will help you make a more informed decision.  So, for me, lesson learned.  I may not have tried 10 different suits but I did find one that fits very well and it comfortable both out of the water and in.  I also found a suit I can zip myself and that helps too.  I hate having to stop my buddy and say “hey can you zip me”.

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