With so many different types of wetsuit available, you may be wondering what separates one from another. It’s in the details because although wetsuits for scuba diving, apnea and surfing look very similar, they have minute differences that affect their performance.
Whether you are looking for scuba wetsuits for women, or want to know the difference between a scuba suit and a surfing wetsuit this post will help you do just that! If you’re looking to know the what the difference between a wetsuit and a drysuit is we have a whole post on that too.
Different Types of Wetsuits
What is a wetsuit? Wetsuits provide insulation for your warm skin against the cold of the water you are in. It’s important to note that water is at least 25 times more effective in the transportation of heat, which is why you will lose heat 25 times quicker when you are in the water.
This is one of the main reasons why we wear wetsuits. And with different sports, come different wetsuit types. Let’s take a look at three of the main wetsuit models and what the differences are between them.
1. Scuba Diving Wetsuits
Scuba diving wetsuits are an essential part of diving gear. This is because a scuba wetsuit is what protects your body against the elements and from becoming too cold during your dive. The body loses heat a lot faster to water than it does to the air, which is why even in warm waters, you can start to become cold on a long dive. That’s why its good to know how to warm up after a cold dive.
There are so many different types of scuba wetsuits available today on the market, each with different measurements of thickness, colors, and unique designs, for example, full body wetsuits. It’s important to make sure you know how to fit a wetsuit and that yours fits properly.
Among the scuba diving wet suits, you will also find a variety to choose from. These can be anything from semi-dry wetsuits, shorties, skin, 3mm, 5mm, and 7mm suits. Each is better suited in different water and diving environments. To understand them better, we recommend you read how a wetsuit works, where we cover why you need a scuba wetsuit and also a wetsuit thickness guide.
2. Surfing Wetsuits
Types of wetsuits for surfing really are what they say they are. They are used by surfers not only to provide warmth against the cool waters but also to stop chaffing against their boards.
Just like scuba diving wetsuits, there are different types of surfing wetsuits out there too. The choice of surfing wetsuit you buy will depend massively on the temperature of the water you surf in.
The good thing is, the main surfing wetsuit brands have a wide range of different shapes and types of wetsuits to suit everyone’s needs, so whether you are looking for a wetsuit just to keep you warm, or one of the cool wetsuits that makes you look good amongst the crowd, there’s plenty of choices.
3. Freediving/Apnea Wetsuits
The term “apnea” (sometimes written also as “apnoea”) is used to describe the suspension of breathing. A sport which is more commonly known as freediving. Freediving types usually come in two pieces which include a hood. The hood helps stop water from entering into the wetsuit collar.
Traditionally, freediving suits do not come with a zipper, this is to allow less chance for water to enter the suit. These kinds are also a lot more flexible and allow more room to breathe and move in.
Check out this guide to buying your first freediving wetsuit for more information.
Difference Between Surf, Scuba, and Apnea Wetsuits
The main variations that really affect the performance of a wetsuit are in the density of the foam/rubber insides and the rubber bubbles ratio. For example, a low-density wetsuit would be one that didn’t have much rubber but a lot of bubbles.
Wetsuits provide insulation for your warm skin against the cold of the water you are in. It’s important to note that as water is at least 25 times more effective in the transportation of heat, you will lose heat 25 times quicker when you are in the water.
Consider then, for a moment, the difference in 15-degree water over 15-degree air. Water with a temperature of 15-degrees means there needs to be enough rubber to pool the sweat while you are standing in the air with a temperature of 15-degrees.
If, then, we are trying to stay warm, we need to have the least heat-conductive material possible that meets the needs of the wetsuit – memory, permeability in water, buoyant, stitch-able, durable and stretchy. That’s why neoprene was used.
It’s the nitrogen inside the closed-cell bubbles of neoprene suits that provide some of the insulation. The more bubbles there are, the more warmth there is, which makes it perfect for surfing.
The Difference with Scuba Suits
Whereas the above applies to surf wetsuits, it’s different for scuba diving. They tend to have a higher density and fewer bubbles/nitrogen. This is to ensure they have the required level of thickness to protect you when you are diving at depth.
If you’ve ever tried both varieties of wetsuit and wondered why scuba suits feel stiffer, that’s why. Generally, the stretchiness in scuba diving suits is seen as poor design rather than good quality.
Can Surfing Wetsuits be Used for Diving?
The short answer is yes. There are several surfing brands out there that make scuba diving wetsuits. However, it’s important to remember that they are designed for different applications.
So, while a surfing wetsuit may feel better diving in, it’s going to lose a lot of its efficacy while you are diving. For water with warmer temperatures though, they are okay.
Understanding Depth and Compression of a Wetsuit
Compression caused by depth can make life difficult when you are diving. Freedivers have been known to experience on a regular basis lung compression that falls from 9-liters right down to 0.4-liters.
That is the equivalent of four and a half 2-liter bottles of milk down to the size of a regular cup of coffee. Essentially, as you dive and descend deeper into cold water, the wetsuit will get thinner and will lose its insulation effectiveness.
Then, if there are any air pockets, because of a bad fit, the compression will push the water into your suit to equalize the volume reducing within that air pocket. Because of these issues, many divers who frequent cold waters, use dry suits.
However, although they keep your body in a dry environment using impermeable materials and a complete seal, there are technical issues with these suits like regulating your buoyancy.
Differences in Lining Material of a Wetsuit
The material used in the lining/outer of the wetsuit is part you get to see most readily when browsing them online or in stores. Without lining, although the suits tend to be warmer, spearfishing and freediving suits are less durable and without plenty of lubrication, they can rip easily.
The lining is added in the form of lamination to the interior/the foam and bubbles component with glue. Over the years, as well as the standard of nylon, other materials have been used, such as merino wool, polypropylene, and polyester. The variations have been implemented to try and improve the overall reflectance of heat within the wetsuit. This is achieved by wicking the water away from the core and by featuring air pockets in the weave.