In recent years diving manufacturers have begun to cotton onto the fact that functionality is not the be all and end all of product design. This is probably in part to much more stringent safety standards making it far harder for consumers to buy regulators that breathe like sucking a Maccie Ds thick shake through a cocktail straw. So belatedly the dive industry is catching up with cool sports like surfing, just with more bacon and less tiresome pontificating about how falling off a piece of fibreglass a lot makes you at one with the ocean.
Sometimes a product comes along that solves a problem in a novel way and changes the way you think about a style of equipment. The Whites Drysuit definitely appears to be one of those products that as well as making you look like you’re wearing a Starfleet uniform (this is a good thing in case you were wondering) also functions in a totally different way to any other Drysuit.
We became a Whites premier dealer a couple of months back pretty much on the basis of how cool the product was but it wasn’t until last weekend that I finally got to give one a go. We were out in Malta and about to head into the water for Drysuit dive one. James, Dick and Chantal were all about to give their suits a first go in open water when Nev from Divewise wandered up and asked whether I’d like to try his.
It’s sometimes a little tricky selling dive equipment in that it’s impossible for you to be able to try everything you sell in the shop before selling it to customers so sometimes you worry that a product won’t be as good as it should be and the thought ran through my mind; what if I didn’t like the suit….Still I decided to man up and find the inner strength to go and play with new diving equipment so I suited up.
First of all what makes the suit a bit different from the others? Well, the suit has 2 layers, an internal waterproof membrane and an outer skin. The inner layer is essentially a survival bag with the standard Drysuit neck and wrist seals and socks, the outer skin attaches by Velcro to the inner bag.
The idea is that the inner bag is very large and loose meaning it can accommodate a very wide range of sizes. The outer skin (which comes in 3 different styles, ‘Sport skin’, ‘Tec skin’ and the brilliantly named ‘Bullet skin’) is made of lycra or neoprene and this shrinks the bag onto the wearer and streamlines the suit as well as offering an outer protective layer.
The upshot of all this is that the suits will fit just about anyone, there are 4 sizes and the only limiting factor is height. To give you an idea, Nev’s suit fit me perfectly and Nev and I are not similar sizes… This means the suit fits fine whether you’ve got a thin baselayer on underneath or a heavy duty thick Halo undersuit. The added advantage is that should you suddenly balloon in weight after one too many deco burgers at the dive site the suit will still fit fine.
The suit is a little bit harder to put on if you’re used to just pulling your Drysuit on like waders, there’s a technique to getting it on over the hips but once that’s on the suit is easy to zip up yourself.
I was now all zipped in and feeling as cool as it’s possible to be with another man’s pee valve pushed up against your thigh. It was time to get in the water and find out how the suit performed.
The first thing you notice about the suit is the flexibility. Put simply, it’s amazing. At one point as I was swimming along I decided to try and reach my valves. Given that I have been ‘blessed’ with long monkey arms I don’t normally struggle much with this skill but I was able to hold onto the manifold with both hands at the same time without issue. You also have a full range of movement more so than any other suit I’ve dived in. The manufacturers claim it feels like a wetsuit and I can see what they mean.
The second thing you quickly notice is that you don’t get any sensation of large volumes of air moving through the suit. Normally when you bring your feet up, the air in the suit moves quickly to the boots and you become buoyant. In the whites suit you can feel the air moving slowly through the channels where the bag is wrinkled up under the skin. I found this meant I had to add a little more air to get my feet up behind me but then as you ascend the skin pushes the air through the suit and it vents so I found that I hardly ever had to vent large amounts of air from the suit on ascent. The shoulder dump is also in the perfect position to dump air as well. It really does make the suit a joy to dive in.
So negatives? Well the boots are rubbish. I think we all came to the same conclusion on the trip and we’ll be looking at just using a simple rock boot instead of the fusion boots. They’re a nice idea but they just don’t really work unfortunately. However it’s a minor issue in what is an otherwise brilliant suit. I’ll be getting one in time for our Croatia trip because the final massive winner with these suits is how light they are. The sport skin version weighs only 2.5kg, considerably less than most of other suits.
All in all a really great bit of kit and I’ll be looking forward to receiving mine soon!