Why do I need a freediving wetsuit?
One can do recreational freediving in the ocean and freediving training in a pool without a wetsuit if the water is warm enough. As in other watersports, scuba etc. the main purpose of the wetsuit is to keep the athlete warm. As a freediver spends more time in the water, freediving and/or training his MDR kicks in more often and with more intensity. This means the freediver has a lower heart rate and restricted circulation to the extremities and will be more susceptible to the cold. This is why, even in swimming pools which are usually 24 - 26 degrees, you will often see freedivers training in wetsuits.
The freediving wetsuits also serve another purpose for the competitive freediver. Freediving wetsuits are usually smooth skin style, affecting an easier passage through the water. When the freediver is working on improving distance or depth underwater a smooth skin wetsuit will make a marked difference.
What wetsuits are used for freediving?
In recreational freediving where the freediver is in the water for a comparatively a long time doing multiple dives, for example sight seeing or underwater photography, warmth and durability becomes the focus. The suits best suited for this activity are the same as used by spearfishers of which there is a great range.
In competition freediving where a 5 % advantage can mean the difference of winning a competition or not, a smooth skin wetsuit is the choice of most freedivers. These are specialised suits that allow a much faster passage through the water. Smooth skin wetsuits are used in both pool and ocean disciplines. However a smooth skin wetsuit can sustain damage when brushed against rocks or coral, and with some of the thinner suits care is needed when putting the suit on or taking it off.
Why do freedivers often use camouflage coloured suits?
Whenever a freediver wishes to get close to underwater life camouflaged patterned suits are often used. This is very prevalent in the area of spearfishing but also would be effective in underwater photography and recreational sightseeing.
Should I get an open cell or lined wetsuit for freediving?
This is generally an individual preference as both work fine. The open cell has a reputation of being more comfortable, and warmer due to the neoprene being right next to the skin. In most cases an open cell wetsuit requires a lubrication solution to allow it to slide on. However many freedivers prefer a lined suit. They don’t need to carry lube everywhere and there is no problem about accidentally forgetting it or running out. A lined suit will slip on easily when it is dry. This is popular on Winter mornings in the colder states.
Most smooth skin wetsuits are lined on the inside to give them strength. There are a few that don’t have this lining and these are very fragile and rip easily. This type of suit often requires lubricant for putting the suit on and taking it off. There are a few brands that combine the smooth skin outside with the open cell inside by using a multilayer design. In this case the lining that gives the wetsuit its strength is sandwiched between the two layers of neoprene.
How do freediving wetsuits differ from surf/spear/scuba wetsuits.
Freediving, surf, spear and scuba wetsuits all have the purpose of keeping the athlete warm. Surf wetsuits are a much softer neoprene designed to keep the surfer warm but also to give him mobility. Because it is not taken deep below the surface it doesn’t need to be so resilient compared to the diving suits. The other three types of wetsuits are diving wetsuits designed to hold form against the water pressure of deep water. Surf suits are crushed when used for diving, affording much less warmth and over a period the water pressure will permanently crush the bubbles in the neoprene.
Spearfishing wetsuits are freediving suits with a few extras to help in hunting activities. A spearfishing suit has a loading pad on the centre of the chest to assist with the loading of the rubbers. The butt of the gun is placed on this pad as the rubbers are drawn. Often the wetsuit has a camouflaged pattern to help the diver hide from the fish he wants to take. Spearfishing wetsuits come as steamers (single piece) or the usual two piece suit. Often wetsuits for spearfishing and other recreational freediving are thicker than those used by competitive freedivers. In these activities the diver is in the water for long periods and especially in cold or temperate waters the thinner freediving suits just don’t cut it.
Scuba suits are designed for long term deep immersion. They are robust but not usually so flexible as the spearfishing or freediving suits. A scuba diver carries tanks of air does not maintain such an energetic action as the freedivers and spearfishers do with their constant descending and ascending. Many scuba divers prefer a thicker single piece suit to insulate them from the colder waters found at depth. Scuba divers also have the option of dry suits, where they are completely sealed from the water at the neck, wrists and feet, and semi-dry wetuit. Both these suits are more suitable for colder water.
Wetsuits designed purely for freediving don’t need a loading pad nor camouflage. They are usually thinner and have a smooth skin exterior to help with the passage through the water. They come in the steamer design but there are also two piece wetsuits with hoods available. The better wetsuits are patterned to suit the diver with his arms above his head in a streamlined position rather than by his side. In their quest to eliminate drag in the water and hence add to their performance, getting rid of wrinkles out of the suit is important. Every fold, crease or unnecessary bump in the wetsuit causes drag and good wetsuit design and cutting handles that. When choosing a freediving wetsuit it is important to ensure it has a good neck seal. A freediver, especially with a monofin moves through the water with speed and a bad seal at the neck will allow water to enter the suit creating a ballooning effect. Some freediving wetsuits are designed with the arms and shoulders uncovered. This is especially prefered by those doing No Fins disciplines to give the arms more mobility.