Wetsuits have been a staple of surfing and scuba diving since the 1950s. Although these neoprene marvels do much to keep divers warm, getting into your wetsuit can be — and often is — an unglamorous struggle.
Wetsuits must fit snugly. Water has a thermal conductivity much greater than air and, therefore, the principle central to a wetsuit’s effectiveness is the lack of water movement through the suit. Combined with this is the wetsuit’s neoprene construction, which is made of small, closed cells. Each cell is filled with air, which provides insulation against cold water by trapping heat inside.
Most dive professionals make getting into a wetsuit seem relatively straightforward — practice makes perfect. How can you make the pre-dive process of getting into your wetsuit a little easier so that you’re not exhausted before you begin?
Choose the right wetsuit
The suit’s thickness correlates directly to the environment you’re about to dive in. The cooler the water, the thicker the wetsuit. The thicker the neoprene, the more difficult the suit is to get on and off. Take the correct tool for the job.
Check, before your dive trip, that your suit still fits. Suits sometimes have a ‘mysterious’ habit of shrinking in the off-season, especially directly after a particularly indulgent Christmas break. Don’t find out, embarrassingly, that the suit isn’t up to the job on the dive deck — do a dress rehearsal.
If you’re in rental gear and there’s an opportunity, try it on before you head out to the dive site. You may usually be a small, medium or large, but wetsuits can vary from brand to brand. Make sure you’re comfortable in the suit and you understand it. Some zip in the front, some in the back. Some have wrist or ankle zips. Don’t be the diver putting on your wetsuit back-to-front on the dive deck.
Wear a second skin
Rash vests and wetsuit socks have multiple uses. Not only does the ‘rashie’ live up to its name and help prevent wetsuit rash, but it also makes it a lot easier to squeeze your torso into a snugly fitting wetsuit. Similarly, lycra wetsuit socks help prevent nasty blisters and also help you slide your feet into wetsuit legs. If you don’t own some and you struggle with your wetsuit, consider picking some up before your next dive trip.
Find what works for you
Some divers find it easier to climb into a dry wetsuit, leaving their suits hanging inside out in the wind on surface intervals. Others find that wetting their suit — either using a hose, dunk tank or putting them on in the water — makes life easier. Try both methods and prepare your suit accordingly before your next dive.
Roll it up
Many divers find that rolling the suit almost inside out in an effort to get it on can help. The method is to turn each arm and leg almost completely inside out, leaving between 3 to 6 inches (6 to 12 cm) from cuff the correct way around. Then, one at a time, place the remaining cuff on your ankle or wrist and roll the rest of the suit into place. This method helps minimize the friction against the skin, effectively ‘peeling on’ the wetsuit.
There are several water-based lubricants on the market, which drysuit divers tend to use more often. However, they can be equally effective on a wetsuit. Work a blob of lubricant around your wrists and ankles as needed. It often helps to ease the path of your hand or foot. Don’t use oil-based lubricants, shampoo or detergents, as these can damage both the wetsuit (long-term use causes the neoprene to harden and crack) and the dive environment.
Use a plastic bag
Divisively in today’s more environmentally conscious times, some divers may put a plastic shopping bag over their hands or feet to help slide into their wetsuits. The plastic bag reduces the friction of the hand or foot against the inside of the suit and helps the limb slide in with more ease.
If you’re struggling, ask your buddy for help. One of the purposes of the buddy system is to help with logistical tasks, whether that’s helping lift your BCD onto your back or jiggling you into your wetsuit. Work together above and below the surface.
On more salubrious dive vessels, the crew will often race around on the dive deck to assist divers into their wetsuits. The boat is usually working on a timetable and helping divers into wetsuits helps the boat crew win favor with the skipper by keeping things moving on the dive deck and earn tips from divers at the end of the trip for their assistance. Indeed, some divers even expect to be dressed by the crew as part of the service on board more expensive cruises.
Sometimes, it’s simply time for a new suit. Or, at least, to buy one specific to your requirements. As with most items of clothing, manufacturers make wetsuits to a variety of generic sizes. if you’re not an off-the-rack size or shape, it may save time and energy to invest in a suit tailored specifically to your measurements. Many suit manufacturers now use lower-friction materials on suit interiors and if you’re purchasing a bespoke suit, you can customize the suit to your needs. Divers sometimes opt for ankle or wrist zippers to ease getting in and out of the suit, for example.
Putting on a wetsuit is never going to be as easy as putting on your favorite pair of jeans. However, with the right considerations, getting into your wetsuit shouldn’t be an ordeal either.