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Wetsuit? She don’t need no stinkin’ wetsuit!

Popular DiverWire writer Stacy Amberson always has something interesting to say. Today, she talks about wetsuits and her love/hate relationship with them!

A wetsuit is a standard piece of gear for most divers; regulates your core temperature, provides protection from free-floating stinging organisms, and insulation to keep you warm.  With a wide range of colors, styles and neoprene thickness to choose from, you’d imagine there would be something for everyone.  Everyone it seems, but me.

I can’t wear wetsuits.  More precisely, I’m unable to complete a dive while wearing a wetsuit; multiple attempts have ended unsuccessfully. Is it simply a form of claustrophobia?  Was it the unfortunate first experience wearing a 5mm full hooded suit in the cold murky waters of Folsom lake?  Perhaps both issues contributed to this unusual dilemma.

Obviously, the inability to wear a wetsuit greatly limits the locations you can comfortably dive.  Well over half the world’s oceans are inaccessible due to water temperature constraints. Additionally, it gives your friends unlimited material for ribbing about ‘fair weather divers’ and making neoprene bondage jokes.  Most disconcerting is being restricted by a phobia that you understand intellectually, but whose physical symptoms continue to dictate your actions.

It begins with an uncomfortable feeling of tightness through the chest.  It seems like the wetsuit is suddenly a couple sizes smaller, although you know this can’t be the case.  Moving arms and legs seems difficult and restrained.  Suddenly the wrist, ankle and neck holes seem to pinch and constrict.  Breath comes quicker and seems to take more effort.  Your heart rate increases, despite a mental mantra to be calm and relax.  An ear ringing along with the echo from the pounding of your heart is so loud you can’t even hear the mantra anymore; not that it’s doing any good.  Against all common sense it’s imperative to get out of that suit, to feel the water against your skin, to be free of it.   

Trials with various brands, styles and thicknesses of wetsuits, have proved disappointing.  In one memorable experiment housework, laundry, paying bills, eating meals and watching television were all conducted wearing a 3mm full suit. Often wearing it wet to produce more realistic conditions. Two weeks of this in an all-out effort to become comfortable in it. Crazy or very determined?  Just imagine what the neighbors must have thought.  But for the cause, any embarrassment was acceptable.

The big test came towards the end of a week-long dive trip in Roatan.  Feeling good, comfortable and confident I donned the wetsuit and began the tenth dive of the trip.  Descending normally, feeling hopeful by the apparent success of the not-so-crazy-now preparation.  The familiar feelings of unease began insidiously but progressed rapidly.  Unzipping fully provided some small degree of relief but for safety’s sake the dive was aborted.  Once on the boat, I couldn’t shed that suit fast enough.  Disgusted and disgruntled, only a deep love of and concern for the ocean prevented it going overboard right then and there.

So that’s how it stands.  All my dives are in warm water, not exactly a hardship.  There are still hundreds of warm water locations on my dream dive wish list.  I’d happily dive the same site over and over if it came to that. Luckily I seem to run a little hot and can dive several times a day for weeks on end without becoming chilled.  However, it’s the principle of the thing now and I won’t give up.  Advice comes often, abundantly and from all quarters. I will try anything in my quest to become, to what in my mind is a ‘real’ diver.  I’ve heard many people say good things about Henderson Hyperstretch, so as soon it’s financially possible, I will be giving that a try.

Until then, you can recognize me on the dive boat – I’ll be the one in BCD and bikini only.

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