Many new divers ask me the same question when they learn to dive – what do I wear under the wetsuit!? It is a valid question, and most people have not used one before! Finding out the answer before you get in the water and the suit can save embarrassment. It is also important to know what to wear under a wetsuit as it can improve your comfort in water.
Wetsuits are worn for many different aquatic sports. I personally use a wetsuit when I am diving. You may also use a wetsuit for snorkelling, wild swimming, and surfing. A wetsuit helps keep you warm, as you lose heat up to 25x faster when you are in water. That is important, as some people under estimate how cold you can get in the water. When diving, I never go without a wetsuit, even in tropical waters. People can tolerate different temperatures however, and people feel the cold differently.
It is a common question, and the answer is no, a wetsuit is not waterproof! You must bare this in mind when deciding what to wear under a wetsuit, as anything under the suit will get wet. Some thicker suits are knows as “Semi-Dry” suits, but again, whatever you wear, will get wet! Semi dry wetsuits are just better at keeping a thin layer of water inside the suit, which brings me onto the next point…
There is no right or wrong answer here – it is personal! However, as a starting point I would always recommend at least a swimsuit. If you know you will be changing in front of people, you need to think about practicalities. I have been on boats and seen people change out of their wetsuits when they have nothing underneath, and it can cause embarrassment! Also, wetsuits can potentially chafe, so some kind of undergarment is practical. In tropical countries, it is perfectly normal to see people with their everyday swimwear under a wetsuit.
You may want to invest in a rash guard. This is an extra top layer, albeit very thin, that goes under the wetsuit. The mix of sand, salt and water can mean wetsuits can become quite irritating for the skin. In some areas where the water is very warm, and you do not need the extra insulation, many people will wear a rash guard anyway as protection. It can help protect against stingers in the water, and also UV rays on the surface.
A rash guard can :
A wetsuit is made from multiple layers of neoprene, and comes in varying thickness. The thickness of wetsuits is usually measure in millimetres. For example, a 3mm wetsuit is usually worn in tropical waters. It is thin, so provides the little amount of insulation you might need. Typically, the thickest wetsuits are 7mm. These are generally used in temperatures from 15 to 20 C, although everyone is different! The wetsuit traps a layer of water between your skin and the material. The heat from your body heats this layer up, and so you stay warmer for longer. The thicker the wetsuit, the more insulation you, and the layer of trapped water, have.
In order to work effectively, the wetsuit must be tight! Remember, the wetsuit is trapping water between the suit and your skin. If the wetsuit is very loose, you will just have fresh water flushing through the suit constantly. You may as not be wearing a wetsuit at all if it is very loose. A good test is to grab the material at the small of your back whilst wearing the wetsuit. If you can pick up a good handful, it is too big! Also note the neck and wrist seals. Are they gaping and loose? Again, this will hinder the insulating properties of the wetsuit. Obviously, you do not want it to be painfully tight either. A wetsuit should not be too easy to get on! If it is, then it is too big!
This is a bit of a hot topic between divers! There is a very famous quote amongst wetsuit wearers – “There are 2 types of divers, those who pee in their wetsuits, and liars!” If the wetsuit is your own, then feel free to do what you like it I suppose! If you have rented it from a store, then I would try and avoid it. Just as you would hope all the people who have worn it before you had tried to avoid it! Also bare in mind the above paragraph about how wetsuits work. You will effectively be trapping you pee in between yourself and the wetsuit – not exactly pleasant! If you do pee in your wetsuit, you can attemot to flush it a little before you exit the water. You can unzip in the water for example, or stretch open the neck, wrist and ankle seals a little to try to get some fresh water flowing through the suit. Be sure to wash the suit thoroughly when you clean your equipment.
It depends on what you are using your westsuit for. If it is just for swimming, then you can use any wetsuit. For surfing, there are many brands like Ripcurl and Billabong, that sell wetsuits made for surfing. For Scuba Diving, it is important that you use a wetsuit that is specifically for this activity. This is because you are going to depth, and putting more strain on the suit with the changes of pressure. All the major Scuba Brands sell wetsuit, and mostly it is down to personal preference. I have a 3mm Scubapro wetsuit which is great for warm waters, and I love the pink accents. I have also used a 7mm Mares Flexa semi Dry in cold waters, and really liked that.