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Equipment for surfing or scuba diving is expensive.
If you’re into both hobbies, then you can be looking at a considerable investment in gear.
Who wouldn’t want to make savings and use kit across both activities if they can?
You can use a surfing wetsuit for scuba diving, but there are limitations that you need to understand, which might make it impractical.
This article is going to take you through the differences between surfing wetsuits and their scuba counterparts.
We will look at the circumstances where surfing suits could be used for scuba diving and explain what you need to understand to choose to do so.
How Do Wetsuits Work?
Since their invention in the 1950s, wetsuits have transformed many watersports by giving participants extra comfort through increased warmth.
Keeping warm has given the user the ability to take part in their activity for longer, and crucially to do them in a broader range of water temperatures.
The generally recognized inventor of the wetsuit Jack O’Neill formed the famous O’Neill company to manufacture the first wetsuits specifically for surfing.
Since then, wetsuits have been developed for many water sports where the participant is either in the water permanently or is frequently getting wet.
In general terms, a wetsuit is a form-fitting suit manufactured from waterproof, foamed neoprene.
Water can get between the user’s skin and the suit but is trapped or restricted from entering and exiting (flushing) and so what does get in is warmed by body heat.
The neoprene rubber contains tiny gas bubbles within the material, which provide insulation to the user and restrict heat loss.
Different thicknesses and densities of neoprene are used depending on the water temperature and sporting activity.
Besides thermal protection, wetsuits can safeguard from cuts and stings from marine organisms and give defense from sunburn by blocking ultraviolet light exposure.
Depending on the thickness and density of the neoprene, wetsuits can provide positive buoyancy to some degree.
Are Scuba Diving and Surfing Wetsuits the Same?
While they share the same essential design and functionality, scuba diving and surfing wetsuits are tailored to suit their respective sports’ specific needs.
The type of neoprene wetsuits are made from is chosen according to the water temperature and whether the activity is being mainly done above or below water.
Suits need to be designed to allow for the amount and type of movement required by the activity.
Features are also included to consider the sport-specific wear and tear that the suit will be exposed to.
We will see here how these features differ between suits for scuba diving and surfing.
What Features Do Wetsuits for Scuba Diving Have?
Scuba wetsuits are manufactured from 3, 5, 7, or even 9 mm thick neoprene depending on the water temperature that they will be used in.
As opposed to a surf suit, the design for a scuba diving wetsuit needs to consider the effects water pressure will have on the suit when diving.
As the diver descends, the increasing water pressure will compress the gas bubbles inside the suit’s material, making it thinner and giving less insulation.
Accordingly, the material chosen for the suit’s construction needs to be relatively dense to still provide insulation at depth.
Even in identical water temperatures, a scuba diving wetsuit would need to be much thicker and also denser than a surf wetsuit to remain effective underwater.
Scuba diving wetsuits are designed to trap water and prevent as much flushing as possible to keep the diver warm.
Thicker scuba suits for cold water use will often incorporate wrist, ankle, and even neck seals to keep water trapped and restrict heat loss.
Because the diver is only really moving their legs underwater and, to a lesser degree, their arms, scuba diving wetsuits are designed to maximize warmth as their priority.
What Features Do Wetsuits for Surfing Have?
Unlike scuba wetsuits, surfing suits are designed to maximize movement while also providing thermal protection.
The neoprene used will typically be thinner and extra stretchy to allow the surfer to move freely according to the sport’s needs.
Additionally, the material used is less dense than that for scuba suits and will be more buoyant.
This is ideal for use at the surface, but underwater this material will compress very quickly due to the surrounding water pressure and will lose its thermal properties.
Surf suits aren’t designed to trap water as scuba suits are.
Indeed many surf suits will incorporate water drains to let water between the diver and the suit run out.
Surf suits will often have knee pad reinforcements to enhance the suit’s toughness in the common area of wear.
Comparing Properties for Using a Surfing Wetsuit to Scuba Dive
Considering the differences, we can see that it would be possible to wear a surfing wetsuit for scuba diving but not ideal.
The diver would need to consider that the surf suit is unlikely to have comparable thermal properties to a scuba suit when underwater, even if it is of the same thickness.
The pressure underwater will compress the less dense surf neoprene more readily than a denser scuba suit and insulation will be lost.
The difference in the type of neoprene used and the lack of water seals to resist water flushing would mean that the diver might get cold very quickly.
Also, the scuba equipment might damage a surf suit over time as it has not been designed with areas to resist the specific wear.
Finally, the compression of the surf suits neoprene when dived repeatedly may cause it to lose some of its flexibility and accordingly be less comfortable to surf in.
So while it can be possible to scuba dive in a surf wetsuit, there are many factors to consider, which means it’s most likely to only be viable in warm water and for a limited number of dives.
Do You Have to Wear a Wetsuit to Scuba Dive?
What wetsuit you need, or indeed whether you need one at all, will depend on the water temperature that you’re diving in, and to a lesser degree, the wind-chill factor of the air when you get out.
In tropical seas with water 85°F / 30°C and higher, many divers are comfortable in shorts and rashguard and enjoy the feeling of freedom this gives.
For others, even this temperature will need at least a short suit (a shorty).
It entirely depends on the individual, and everyone should wear what’s comfortable for them.
In general terms, the following can be used as an approximate guide:
|85°F / 30°C & above||bathing suit/shorts and rashguard|
|80-85°F / 27-29°C||3 mm shorty or 2-3 mm fullsuit|
|73-79°F / 23-26°C||3-5 mm full suit|
|66-72°F / 19-22°C||5-7 mm full suit|
|50-65°F / 10-18°C||7-9 mm semi-dry or drysuit|
|50°F / 10°C and below||drysuit|
For comfort and safety, it’s vital not to get too cold while diving.
There is little more miserable a feeling than being too cold underwater.
All things being equal, a diver should aim to wear as thin a wet suit as will be comfortable because this will allow them to minimize the amount of lead weight needed on their weight belt.
Less weight means that getting in and out of the water is more comfortable.
It also means that buoyancy control underwater is easier as the diver is compensating less for the wetsuit’s compression.
Divers should though always make sure that they’re not suffering from the cold towards the end of the dive just to save carrying a few extra pounds of lead.
The correct suit to keep you warm for the whole dive is the most crucial factor.
Can I Use a Scuba Diving Wetsuit for Surfing?
Because of the differences in design and manufacture, it’s not advisable to try using a scuba diving wetsuit for surfing.
As we have seen, the average scuba wetsuit is designed with denser, thicker neoprene, and so will be a lot heavier than a surf suit.
They’re usually less flexible and are cut to a different design, and so are harder to move in while surfing.
In general, unless you really have no choice, surfing in a scuba diving wetsuit will be hard work and probably not that enjoyable.
You can scuba dive in a surfing wetsuit so long as you understand the limitations.
The thinner and less dense neoprene of a surf suit is not going to keep you as warm as a proper scuba diving wetsuit.
Additionally, the compression on the suit neoprene from going underwater for extended periods and also abrasion from scuba diving equipment like the tank and weight belt can cause your surf suit to age prematurely from use that it wasn’t designed for.
Your surf suit might be ok for occasional dives in warm waters, but for more than that, it’s much better to invest in a proper scuba diving wetsuit.
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