I’ve been diving a 5mm wetsuit with a 3/5 hooded vest for a year in San Diego. Most people dive 7mm+ and think I’m nuts. I started to agree with them. I momentarily considered moving to a thicker wetsuit, but figured that ultimately it would just be a speed bump on my way to a drysuit. I’ve been doing longer, sometimes deeper dives, and neoprene just isn’t cutting it.
At depth (say 60 or 100′), a neoprene wetsuit is much less warm than it is on the surface, because the pressure of the water compresses the wetsuit. Drysuits on the other hand require you to add and subtract air from them as you move about the water column. This adds complexity, but means that you always have the same amount of insulation, regardless of depth. Since you are mostly dry, you also lose much less heat to the water. The other nice thing about a drysuit is that you can adjust your warmth simply by switching what you wear under the suit – the same suit can be used in freezing or temperate waters. After a lot of research I took a deep breath and got myself measured for a custom fit TLS350 in August.
The wait was pretty unbearable. I finally dove my new suit on Saturday and Sunday. It was a learning experience. It felt like I was back diving for the first time again – there was a whole new set of skills and equipment to relearn. After my third dive I was starting to get more comfortable with the process, but I think it will take me quite a few more before it all becomes second nature.
While the drysuit feels a bit weird and awkward right now, the value of the suit really hit me on the way back from the Coronado Islands. We had just finished two dives and had been in the water the longest for both dives. As we were relaxing at the back of the boat I noticed the rest of the crowd. Most of other divers had changed into dry clothes, but were huddled up under the boat cab and looked absolutely frozen. I was sitting at the back of the boat in the wind and spray and was very content. I probably looked like a smug bastard, but I was warm and dry smug bastard.