I am quite ashamed to say that my quest to find the perfect wetsuit for the swimming pool lasted far too long. I blame this on the fact that I dive cold water and have almost exclusively dived a dry suit in the ocean. Wet suits? A luxury I can’t say I knew until recently… Hopefully you can learn from my trials and tribulations.
A week before my first pool session as a Divemaster in Training (DMC), I still didn’t have a wetsuit. So, I did what every good diver does. I went into our local dive store to ask for help. I knew two things: I wanted a 5mm wetsuit (I get cold fairly easily) and I wanted something cheap as chlorine wrecks wetsuits. Almost every single instructor and divemaster I know who helps out wears a gray wetsuit. And yes, that wetsuit did not start out gray. It was black. So, cheap was the way I was going to go.
One of the shop’s employee’s said he had a couple of secondhand ones I could try on.
While he was fetching them from storage, I perused the new wetsuits. Obviously I would have loved a new one, but to spend that money on something that I knew would get ruined? It just didn’t feel worth it. I tried on both of the wetsuits he brought out. One, a man’s O’Neill that had baggy arms and was only 3mm, and another, a size 14 women’s wetsuit, probably for kayaking. It was also baggy, but fitted a little better as it was cut for a woman. I asked how much it was and then handed over the dough. $50 didn’t seem bad for a slightly ill-fitted wetsuit.
The next week I gave it a try. It was AWFUL! In the water it got even baggier which meant that in spite of the fact that it was a 5mm suit, it did not keep me warm. Plus, it just looked ridiculous, and who wants to feel like a clown around students?
So, I went back to the shop, cheapo wetsuit in hand, gritted my teeth and exchanged it for one that cost $275! Yeah, I know, so much for my resolve…
Unfortunately, I made two catastrophic errors. The first, was that I bought a size too big again (okay, 2 sizes too big as they didn’t have anything smaller). The second, I had spent too much money. So, when I got to the pool the next week, I spent most of the session wishing I had something that felt right and that hadn’t cost so much to feel so not right. By the end of the night, I knew I’d have to find a better solution.
If, like me, you are one of those people who buys clothing a size too large, let me save you some trouble — this approach does not work on wetsuits. Don’t do it. You’ll feel uncomfortable and you’ll get cold. The wetsuit won’t be doing what it is supposed to be doing: heating up that layer of water against your skin.
Tired of the hunt, I quit exchanging one poorly fitting wetsuit for the next. I decided to just get a “cheap” wetsuit online and take a risk with sizing. REI was having a sale so I looked through their catalogue. They didn’t have much, but they had one that looked promising, primarily because it was around $85 on sale, but also because it was available in my size (the one I never buy in) and had excellent reviews both on REI and on Amazon. The O’Neill Reactor 3/2mm wetsuit, made for surfers and divers.
I decided to order it in size 10 (the right size) and hope for the best. The suit came in the mail a few days later and the second I laid hands on it, I prayed it would fit. It was exactly what I wanted. It was black; the material felt thicker than the first secondhand wetsuit I’d tried on (even though both were 3mm); and it had knee pads. Clearly designed for a scuba diver.
Much to my delight, when I tried it on, it fitted like a glove. Even though it felt really tight, based on my experiences with the other suits, I knew this was good. The water would loosen it slightly, but the skintight fit meant it wouldn’t get really baggy and I’d be more likely to stay warm.
Since then I’ve used it at least 8 times and can safely say that I don’t need a 5mm for two hours in a swimming pool thanks to the excellent fit and material of this wetsuit. It just works. It’s well-tailored and it doesn’t have any odd features. Everything is as it should be. And so the story goes…I now have the perfect divemaster’s pool wetsuit!