Choosing the Right Custom Freediving Wetsuit
It's that time of year. The water temperatures have dropped and your old suit just doesn't feel like it used to. Time for a new suit, but you don't want any old off-the-rack stock suit that doesn't fit right. The wrists and ankles are too tight or loose. The armpits are baggy, the neck is too tight. When you move water flushes in and out bringing cold water in to replace the warm water. The problem with most suits is they are cut for one body type. Odds are you are not that mannequin the suit was meant to fit. The problem with wetsuits is if they don't fit just right you will not be as warm or comfortable. Fit is king!
A custom suit will fit and feel good for years to come. Having trouble deciding on what kind of wetsuit you want? Between neoprene thickness, lining, pattern, color, stitching, logos, extra padding, zippers and suit styles there’s infinite possibilities in how many different freediving suits can exist.
How to decide what kind of wetsuit you want
Decide where you will be using the suit
Decide on the primary use of the suit
Keep in mind any secondary uses
Finally keep in mind your personal preferences
Where you use the suit . . .
Will determine the necessary thickness of the suit. Here in Kona, Hawaii people typically use 2-3mm suits. Here’s some general guidelines on choosing the correct neoprene thickness based on Fahrenheit water temperature.
Wetsuit temperature guidelines:
2 mm or less 80+º f 26 º C
3 mm 75 - 80º f 24-26º C
5 mm 60 - 75º f 15.5-24º C
7mm 45 - 60º f 7-15.5º C
8mm+ 45º f and below
These of course are general guidelines. If you are more prone to getting cold (you have very little ‘bioprene’ aka body fat and or muscle) go up one thickness. If you have ample ‘bioprene’ or tend to run hot go down one thickness.
This of course will also vary based on the type of activity you will undertake. Spearfishing will typically require more movement and effort than line diving. So you will stay warmer while spearing than say sitting motionless waiting for your next breathe up on the line. This brings us to our next topic of . . .
How you will use the suit
So you’ve decided you’d like to use the suit for a specific primary purpose or you're not sure. That’s fine. If you’ve never had a good freediving suit consider renting one and trying the activity in question. Were you too hot or cold? What did you like/not like about the suit? This may help you hone in on your decision.
I often have people coming into the shop to buy a suit for spearfishing. They're often inclined to buy something with camouflage. This is not necessarily the most important consideration when buying a spearfishing suit. In Kona the fish often see you coming and camouflage will not help you get any closer.
Consider that you may actually need 2 suits. One for one purpose and one for another. During the winter you may want a thicker suit than during the summer. One way to get more from a suit is to order one suit in a particular thickness and then get just a top in a thicker material for colder water. Or a thinner top for active swimming and spearfishing and a thicker one for deep line-diving.
Customize for your activity
A spear fisherman might want a place to put his knife in a pocket and a pad to protect his chest when loading his gun. A Freediver might want an extra thick chest to help keep them warm while breathing up. A model will want to look really good so design and color will be important to how the suit looks underwater
There are often only 2 styles for freediving suits. They are both 2 piece. The first is a high-waist 2 piece suit with pants that come up to just below the breasts and a separate top that has a hood incorporated.The second style is the same with pants that have suspenders that go up over the shoulders called ‘farmer john’ style. This offers a bit more thermal protection. It also helps to keep the suit on especially for women who sometime find the suit wants to slide down when lubed up. While offering more warmth the farmer john style will restrict your movement a bit more than the high-waist style.
There are of course variations of these styles but most Freedivers will use these styles. Some people prefer not to have a hood and so will elect to order their suit without one.
Custom suits vary widely in price. They can be as little as $200 up to $1000 for a custom Henderson scuba suit. Fortunately most freediving suits will run in the same range if not slightly more than a decent off-the-rack wetsuit. Elios suits will run in the $299-499 range while oceaner will typically run in the $399-599 range. The more addons the higher the price.
This is the material placed on the inside and outside of the suit.
There are 3 types of lining: Open Cell - This is when the manufacturer makes a brick of neoprene and cuts it. Then they do nothing. It's basically raw neoprene. It's good for putting the suit on. Using a lubricant usually made of conditioner it slides on easily and stays snug up against the skin. The lube allows the suit to slip around the body as you move.
Closed/Nylon - This is usually a nylon fabric that is glued to the outer surface of the neoprene. This prevents the neoprene from stretching as much which protects it from tearing as easily. It also protects it from getting damaged and allows the suit to be colored
Smoothskin - This is typically a coating applied to the raw neoprene that makes the surface shiny and smooth. It can be colored and even textured to add durability.
Refer to the chart near the beginning to choose the appropriate thickness of suit. Keep in mind you can sometimes mix thicknesses with the arms, hood, or pants, being thinner than the chest. This will give you more flexibility and mobility where you want or need it while keeping your core warm.
There are typically two options for stitching.
Regular through stitching - Potentially the more durable option this will allow water to seep through the seem which means it's not as warm as the glued option below.
Glue and blindstitch - This is the warmer of the 2 options because it prevents the water from seeping through the seam. It also eliminates an obvious stitching pattern which means the suit will sit against your skin a little better.
Color - for suits that have stitching outside on the suit it is also possible to choose from different stitching colors. This means you can have a truly custom look. A black suit looks really distinctive with rainbow stitching!
Zippers can be added to all openings on the suit to facilitate putting the suit on. While they make the suit easier to put on they also allow water to come in more easily and are not flexible so it will reduce movement and flexibility.
Elbow, chest, and knee pads are the most common types of pads added to a suit. Knee pads allow the user to kneel without having to worry about damaging the suit. They will limit the flexibility of the suit however.
If you spearfish you may wich to add a pocket in the pants or top to accomodate accessories like flashers or a knife.
Aside from having a suit that is one solid color its possible to mix and match colors. This can be done to create a superhero effect. As far as colors that show well underwater it is best to stay away from red as that is the first color to go away even in relatively shallow water leaving you with a rusty brown looking suit. Good colors for modeling include, green and yellow.
One neat add-on for some to truly make their suit unique is the ability to give it a a truly custom look with a logo or graphic.
Measuring & Ordering
One of the most important aspects of custom suits is ensuring they fit just right. This means making sure the measurements are correct from the beginning. I would urge you not to rely on a friend or spouse to make the measurements unless they really understand how the measurements are to be made. I have seen horror stories of beautiful suits coming back unusable from gross measurement errors.
There are many custom suit providers but few that offer the quality and convenience of Oceaner. The main reason I like to order from Oceaner is their production time is typically only 3 weeks. This means you can get your suit in as little as a month including shipping. They are also very easy to communicate with. This is a plus because there are so many particulars when it comes to these suits.
Kona Freedivers offers custom suit fitting. This service is included in the cost of the suit so you won't be paying more versus ordering the suit yourself. Contact us to set up a measurement appointment where we will go through the myriad of options available based on your intended use.