Wetsuits 101

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In this video, Andrew goes over all the basics of spearfishing wetsuits and why we wear them. Wetsuits serve a few purposes, mainly giving you protection from cuts and scrapes, added warmth, camo, and a loading pad for a speargun. The most common type of spearfishing wetsuit is the two piece suit. The less common type is a one piece wetsuit, similar to a surf wetsuit. The two piece wetsuit, as the name suggests, comes in two pieces, the top and the bottom. The top has a hood to protect your head, and a beaver tail that clips between the legs to secure the top in place. The bottoms come in a farmer john style, which goes over the shoulders like a pair of overalls, and a high waisted pant style. The farmer john style provides extra warmth, but the extra neoprene also increases buoyancy, which requires more weight to be worn on the belt. Farmer john pants can often be converted to high waisted pants if the diver chooses to cut the top portion of the pants off. 

Wetsuits are made from neoprene, which has nitrogen gas trapped in the material, which is what helps to give it insulating qualities. Raw neoprene by itself is quite fragile, and so we see different combinations of layering. Open cell neoprene is just raw neoprene with no additional coating or layering of materials. This is the most comfortable, warm, and stretchy form of neoprene. Closed cell neoprene has an added layer of fabric on top, such as nylon, to increase durability. However while the added fabric makes the neoprene more durable, it also decreases the stretch and warmth. The most common configuration you’ll find in a spearfishing wetsuit is a closed cell outer and an open cell inner. This allows you to stay warm and comfortable, as the open cell is touching the skin and insulates you, and the closed cell is on the outside and helps to protect the suit. Another configuration more common in lower end wetsuits or wetsuits tailored towards warmer climates, is one that is closed cell on the inside and outside. They typically will come in a thinner thickness, such as a 1.5mm or 3mm. This type of wetsuit is a good option for someone diving in warm water who needs the extra protection but not necessarily the extra warmth. There are also smooth skin wetsuits, where the outside and inside are both open cell. As there is no added layer of fabric, this style of wetsuit will be both warm and stretchy, but will also be more fragile. We see more competition and pure freedivers using this style of wetsuit, as the reduced friction is more hydrodynamic, and the extra stretch of a smooth skin wetsuit provides a more comfortable fit. This style of wetsuit is also suited towards boat diving, as the smooth skin outer helps to eliminate wind chill while on the boat, as well as blue water diving where you’re not around any reef or structure. 

Wetsuits that are open cell on the interior require lubrication to be worn. Open cell neoprene when dry will stick to the skin and is extremely difficult to put on. Using some type of lubrication, whether that's water mixed with shampoo or conditioner, or some other kind of lube, allows you to slide into the suit without damaging the neoprene. In terms of thickness, the most common thicknesses are 3.5mm, 5mm, and 7mm. Although, you’ll find almost every thickness across different brands and manufacturers. For warmer climates, a thinner suit like 1.5mm or 3.5mm are great options. For colder climates, wetsuits between 5mm to 7mm are preferable. Here in Canada we typically use 7mm open cell wetsuits all year round. Keep in mind that the thickness you choose also depends on whether or not your wetsuit is open or closed cell. For example, while you may need a 3.5mm open cell in the winter in Hawaii, you may only need a 1.5mm closed cell in the summer. Joining a dive group on social media in the area you’re diving isn’t a bad option, as you’ll be able to ask local divers what works for them, either year round or in different seasons. Keep in mind that the thicker the wetsuit, the more buoyant you’ll be, and the more weight you’ll need to wear on your belt.

In terms of camouflage, the general idea is that you pick a camo that’s going to best blend into the environment you’re spearfishing in. There are different opinions on whether or not camo actually works or not. Arguably, your technique is more important than what color your camo is. While your camo may allow you to perfectly blend into your environment, if you’re not able to dive quietly and with the correct technique required for your area or your target species, the camo won’t matter. Unless you have great visibility, fish will typically hear you before they see you, and for the most part fish will avoid you if you’re creating too much noise. This is why we need to really nail our water entry, not only to be able to dive efficiently but also to be able to dive quietly, so as to not scare off fish.

Wetsuits are an essential piece of gear for every spearfisherman. The added protection that a wetsuit gives you is key to diving effectively. It allows you to get to the bottom and hunt without having to worry about getting cuts or scrapes. This allows you to put yourself into spaces that you wouldn’t normally without that protection. The warmth they provide also allows you to be more comfortable, which is one of the most important things when it comes to spearfishing and freediving. If you aren’t comfortable, you aren’t able to keep your heart rate low, which means you won’t be able to stay underwater for nearly as long. A good wetsuit will last you years if you take care of it, and is invaluable to spearfishermen. 

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