Author: Marlon Quinn, WaterMaarq, PADI Master Freediving InstructorAs a temperate water freediver, used to freediving in waters ranging in temperature 10c - 21c, it's a challenge to know what the best wetsuit choice is when you're heading north to the tropics.
Last month the WaterMaarq Solomon Islands 7-day freediving holiday ventured to the island of New Georgia to experience the unspoilt beauty of the South Pacific. A true holiday experience, the float and line were pushed to the back of the queue and at the front lay daily freediving adventures to coral reefs, pelagic fish and WWII wrecks.
The Solomon Islands are a unique getaway, it's everything you'd expect from the tropics. Warm blue water hovering around 28c, palm trees lathered thick over islands showcasing white sandy beaches. Licking the shoreline are seas that cover rainbows of extensive coral colonies, vying for space and new places to develop.
Rich thriving habitats house anemones and their dwellers the clown fish. The Solomons is home to dozens of Nemos swimming around, one so rare that divers from around the world travel to the islands to catch but just a glimpse.
Scientists even focus their microscopes in the direction of local crustaceans that are sought for deeper laboratory research and cataloging. The Dive Munda team based on-site in Munda provided us with all the support we needed to freedive this amazing location every day.
For us and our lucky travellers, the Solomons provide a seascape that is like an underwater adventure park. Coral walls plunge visibly 30 and 40m deep into the blue below. Beyond our vision, several dive sites continue down to more than 2000m below.
It's not all about depth though, fringing reefs provide a playground from right beneath the surface with crevices, cracks and gullies to explore in easy accessible depths of 2-20m.
What would a holiday be without a wreck to explore? These tours spoil you with sunken ships, fighter planes and bombers. In as little depth as 12m, you'll hover over incredible stories of human instinct and survival. Fighter pilots that ditched their planes, swam to shore and walked away. At other times the eeriness of wreckage containing a fallen pilot who was not so fortunate will leave you with a powerful sense of the fragility of lives lived in foregone eras.
Freediving Wetsuits for the Tropics?In all the excitement of what lay ahead, often it's the little things that escape our attention. For many, the easy question of "what wetsuit should I take?", turns perplexing because you consider that you'll be fine in swimwear as you plunge around the big warm blue.
Turning to our European counterparts who plunge in Mediterranean waters of 26c-28c most of the time, you might find it ridiculous that many use a 5mm open cell smoothskin wetsuit in those temperatures. Most often in southern Australia, you're only in a 5mm open cell between March and January, with February bringing out the 3.5mm if you're lucky as the water temperature peaks.
Avoiding the PitfallsOn holidays though, it's not like you're ever rushing to get out of the water, you want to stay in as long and as comfortably as possible. The challenge is though, that even in tropical 28c water under a 33c temperature sun, your body still gets cold. If, as you will, you spend hours at a time in the water in just boardies and a rashie or a bikini or similar, it won't be long before you feel the early chills creep in to the system, despite the tropical backdrop. Not to mention a potentially red-raw back from a nice spot of sunburn as your winter office tan suddenly gets exposed to hours and hours of direct sunlight in that pretty blue warm water.
You really do need a wetsuit.
Home Comforts?Since the beginning WaterMaarq has used open cell two-piece freediving wetsuits with a nylon lining on the outer for warmth, flexibility, comfort and resistance against external cuts and scrapes. The open cell inner contacts the skin perfectly to create an extra layer of insulation against the elements. The question is, do you need all that in the tropics?
WaterMaarq's ChoiceEnter the thinner 2.5mm Adreno Pro Skin wetsuit, the ideal solution to the tropical problem. In our experience, the smoothskin outer is becoming the only choice for a jacket, owing to the incredible resistance to wind chill. As water beads off the smoothskin like raindrops from a red Ferrari, there's no layer of liquid to dissipate the heat away. As you may be aware, water dissipates heat away about 25 times faster than the same temperature of air.
Clearly in the tropics, you really don't need 5mm of insulation if you're used to using that thickness in 12-20c. The 2.5mm thickness of the Adreno Pro Skin 2.5mm 2-Piece Wetsuit is just the right amount for temperate dwelling human fish like us.
At 2.5mm thick though, it's going to be way too fragile as an open cell neoprene, therefore, on the inside you gain a nylon lining for extra strength to the high-density neoprene it's bonded to.
Don't be concerned about annoying seams and stitching that will leave you with an unwanted impression of the tropics (and unsightly rashes and rawness), the highlights of the Adreno Pro Skin smoothskin and lined wetsuit afford glued and taped seams that won't leave you leaping for the bandaids or vaseline.
Dolphin-like VersatilityThe great thing about having a 2-piece wetsuit is the versatility of how you can wear it, based upon your comfort levels, the heat and position of the sun or the amount of wind on the surface. If it's overcast and windy and you're looking for the full streamlined glide through the water, then you're going to be covered head to toe with the jacket and pants combination. Being manufactured from hyperstretch neoprene, you'll move like a dolphin, unrestricted and free.
If you're too warm and you're keen for a bit of sun on the legs, then by using the jacket and boardies/bikini you'll find that your core stays at it's best operating temperature for longer, whilst the exposed legs provide a nice sense of movement through the water.
Plunging around in just the pants might give off feelings of being a mermaid or merman, but it's not something we've had the opportunity to explore.
Weight CompensationThe other cool thing about a thinner 2.5mm wetsuit is that you don't need to overcome the buoyancy with much weight. Most of the time we found ourselves freediving with no weight at all, even wearing the full suit or just the jacket. It felt really natural and with good form and hydrodynamic technique, you'll not rely on weights to keep you under the surface.
Feeling LuckyLanding from early Spring Melbourne with temperatures starting to edge 15c, maybe 16c, the tropical 33c+ heat rising from the tarmac in Munda, Solomon Islands, takes your breath away. When you’re used to plunging the waters of the Southern Ocean, hovering around 12c surface temperature as the longer days of September start to grow on you, there's nothing better than being in a tropical freediving paradise to escape. Except, if you know you've got the right gear to enjoy every minute under the surface.
Stay tuned for more insights into our Solomon Islands freediving holiday.
Thanks to James Cini for taking the incredible images as we explored as much of the Solomon Islands within reach.