This wouldn’t have mattered much, except that I was due to meet some friends at Hodge Close a couple of days later and was now without a suit. So I went home and exhumed my old compressed neoprene Northern Diver from the loft.
It hasn’t been truly watertight for years, but it’s my trusty stand-by for those occasions when I’m damned if I’m going to miss a dive.
This time, however, I really should have thought the thing through a little more carefully, and remembered to change the undersuit as well.
Hodge didn’t start well. Pulling the thick, stiff old suit on over the top of my Thinsulate wasn’t easy, but I persevered, and even got the zip closed without snagging it.
Bending my arms to get into the BC was hard work, what with all that extra material, but I was finally able to flop into the water and, after a struggle, pull on my fins.
By comparison, the dive was easy. I always liked that suit under water. But then came the ascent, and getting air out of the suit with the undersuit blocking the cuff-dump resulted in the slowest, most cautious ascent in the history of sport-diving, as I clung to the rock wall of the old quarry to prevent a runaway ascent.
If only I’d had the Sharkskin undersuit I’ve been testing recently, it could all have been so different.
The Sharkskin is a remarkable garment. It’s made of a thin, four-way-stretchy material that is both breathable and windproof, so it’s useful above water on the dive-boat or when you’re walking around the site and looking like the sort of diver who really has his act together.
Getting into the Sharkskin was easy. Open the back-mounted zip, step into the bottom half of the suit, pull on the arms and I was almost there. Unusually, the zip runs diagonally from just above the left hip up to the back of the right shoulder, and it turned out that the angle is perfect for pulling it closed using the dangly ribbon attached to the tab.
Putting on my drysuit over the top was equally straightforward. There are stirrups to stop the legs rucking up, thumb-loops on the ends of the arms to keep the sleeves straight, and the material of the Sharkskin didn’t tend to catch in the suit zip, which was nice.
Once on, the undersuit added no feeling of bulk. I was able to walk around without looking as if I’d dropped a roll of carpet from under each arm, and pulled on my BC and fins and clip-stages without feeling constricted.
It was also comfortable enough to wear for a long day without chafing, and if you do get a bit damp it’s said to wick away the moisture. My wrist-seals always weep a bit, but I didn’t notice this with the Sharkskin in the same way that I do with the Thinsulate
None of which counts for much if you get cold on the dive. Sharkskin says that its suit offers warmth equivalent to that of a 2-3mm neoprene wetsuit. I’ve no idea if that’s true or not, but I managed a 90-minute dive in my current neoprene suit and was cool but not chilled when I climbed out of the water.
In winter or under a membrane suit I’d have needed more insulation, but the Sharkskin is thin and light enough to layer up easily.
I was able to pull my winter undersuit on over the Sharkskin and couldn’t discern any real difference, except that after two minutes I really needed the breathable effect.
The suit is also said to be odour-resistant, which would be nice at the end of a week’s diving trip.
As a bonus, if you’re headed abroad to warmer climes the Sharkskin will stand alone as a 2-3mm wetsuit or can be worn under a thicker suit or even a semi-dry for additional warmth – and because it’s neutrally buoyant under water, you won’t need to add any lead.
And talking of weight, the suit is light enough to drop into your dive-bag just in case.
The only downside I can think of is the price, which isn’t cheap, but it does look well-made and likely to last a long time. Also, that back-zip isn’t convenience-zip friendly.
But then, as a friend pointed out a little more forcefully than I thought necessary, if I was female a convenience zip would be no use anyway, so now I knew how she felt.
All in all, well worth considering.
TESTER: Mike Ward
SIZES: 9 female – 6-22. 10 male – XXS-5XL
COLOURS: Dark grey
UK DISTRIBUTOR: liquidsports.co.uk
DIVER GUIDE 9/10
Appeared in DIVER October 2017