Ode to the Lowly Wetsuit

Outer Bamnks diving on the Great Escape Southern California Live-Aboard Dive Boat

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Posted by Dick Analog on April 20, 2005 at 14:57:44:

In Reply to: Wanting drysuit feedback.. posted by Hilary on April 20, 2005 at 03:46:53:

Ode to the Lowly Wetsuit

It hangs in the closet, arms outstretched.

Inviting...no, pleading to be taken on the next adventure.

Bits of thread hanging here and there, scuffs and cuts, each evoking warm memories of past adventures.

In the beginning it was an artifact, cold, manufactured, no more a part of the sea than the box in which it came.

But with each dive it absorbs a little more life, until it carries with it the fragrance of the sea itself.

Over time, it changes shape, conforms.

Until it is simply an extension.

Of me.


Okay ;-) maybe thatís a bit over-the-top for a few sewn-together chunks of neoprene, but it does reflect the fondness I have for my wetsuit. I donít think I could become quite as emotionally attached to a baggy nylon shell and insulated underwear.

Like many new divers, Iíve looked with envy at drysuit-clad divers, apparently warm as toast, while I shiver in the wind. They make everything look so easy Ė casually putting on their drysuit as if they were dressing for a walk down the street, while I yank, pull, hop, and curse my wetsuit into place. But now, with a more experienced eye, I realize that all is not so great in drysuit land. Theyíre very vulnerable to the poking, cutting things that we encounter underwater, and once poked or cut, even just a little, drysuits lose most if not all of their functionality. On nearly every dive trip Iíve been on, some drysuit diverís suit has Ďmysteriouslyí flooded; could be valve problems, seal problems, or just a lowly sea urchin out for revenge for the thoughtless fish handouts of the past. A wetsuit, on the other hand, can take a real beating and still retain 99% of its functionality. And keep coming back for more.

In my mind, the important determining factors for deciding between wet and dry are 1) WHERE you plan on diving, and 2) HOW you plan on diving. If one is planning on doing a lot of diving on the outer Channel Islands or anywhere north of Point Conception, then using a drysuit seems more like a safety choice. There is no doubt that the diver who recently drifted for several hours off the Monterey coast owes her life to her drysuit. Iím sure that divers who make frequent deep, long duration dives, spending a lot of time in decompression stops would also find a drysuit to be a necessity rather than convenience. And serious photographers also, who donít always cover a lot of ground on a particular dive, would likely appreciate the safety and comfort of a drysuit while they hover motionless waiting for their subject to re-emerge from its hiding place.

I know as a recreational diver who has gone out nearly every week through this past winter, a 7mm wetsuit has met all of my needs for comfort and safety. The coldest dive I did was in 53degF water on the frontside of Anacapa Island, and I donít even remember thinking about water temperature. But my dive buddy and I do tend to cover a lot of ground in the course of a dive. Iím sure that serious bug hunters also move around enough that they keep plenty warm in their 7mm wetsuits.

And last but not least, there is the cost factor. It looks as though you can buy about 10 good wetsuits for the cost of one quality drysuit.

P.S. I know that the organic volatiles that drift out of neoprene booties can hardly be thought of as a Ďsea fragranceí ;-) But I imagine that drysuit socks or integrated boots eventually yield a similar bounty of interesting odors.

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