Wetsuits: Not a Pretty Sight, But Necessary

If you think about it, the wetsuit is really just a big, rubber onesie – the kind of one-piece clothing that zipped up the front we all wore as infants, unless your parents were hippies or hillbilly naturalists who let you run wild butt (or buck) naked. Nevertheless, for most grown people, the thought of getting into a onesie, much less one that is made of rubber, is more than a little intimidating.

Putting on one of these dignity-crushing uniforms (unless you’re a super model or 16 and have the metabolism of a hummingbird), requires an act of courage. And not just for aesthetic reasons, such as being seen in the light of day around strangers who don’t know your dieting tales of woe. Getting into one of these stubborn suits can be exhausting. They’re not like the modern day pantyhose or Spanx tummy trimmers that, admittedly, have their own set of challenges. Getting into these contraptions is like literally putting on a second skin, one that’s said to be pliable and stretchy, but sadly, isn’t.

These days, wetsuits are made of a modern invention called neoprene and yes, they’re figure revealing. They can make you look a bit thicker in areas you might prefer to keep hidden. However, if you are bold enough to engage in intense water activities like scuba diving, surfing, windsurfing, and even canoeing (in cold water), then into a wetsuit you must go.

But you might be asking: why can’t I just put on my bubble helmet and oxygen tank without shimmying into such an undignified rubber jumpsuit? What is wrong with my real skin and my cute designer tankini? Three reasons: thermal insulation, abrasion resistance and buoyancy. But more about that later.

But First, Where Did They Come From? Who Thought of Such a Thing?

The wetsuit as we know it (and the ones we used to see in Jacques Cousteau films) are an invention of 20th century marine technology. A suit called the Mark V suit was developed for deep sea diving and salvage operations (like combing the remains of a sunken ship) that the U.S. Navy conducted from 1916 to 1984. During World War II, Italian Frogmen started wearing rubber suits to cavort around and spy on the enemy. The actual discovery of neoprene emerged from World War II military research on various rubbers and plastics. Then, voila, in 1951, a guy named Hugh Bradner perfected the suits for the U.S. Navy, which led to the invention of the first real Neoprene wetsuit.

Water Fight! A Squabble over Inventorship.

While many sources cite Bradner as the inventor of this inglorious, but necessary suit, two other people, Bob Meistrell and Jack O’Neill are laying claim to it. No matter, the fact remained that in the 50s, wetsuits had no inner lining and had to be coated with talcum powder. This begs the question: would you have sprinkled the talcum powder inside the suit, then attempted to put it on? Or put the powder all over your body first? Either way, this seems high maintenance and nightmarish, and today, might cause a reasonable human to abandon this seafaring activity and head for the swim-up bar.

Improvements during the 1970s.

During the 70s, wetsuits had double-backed neoprene sewn together, which created holes. This wasn’t good for divers. Solutions for this included seam taping, seam gluing and seam binding. (Sounds exhausting.) But still nothing really worked – until a technique called blind stitching was developed. This featured sewing with a curved needle that did not go all the way through the neoprene, solved the problem of punctured holes and made the seams lie flat, which made them more comfortable for the wearer.

Enter Body Glove in 1989.

Body Glove, the popular water sports, fashion icon, actually invented the first non-zip wetsuit in 1989. (This is even more daunting. No zip?) The wearing of such a thing sounds like it would take a day and some personal dressers to assist someone with putting this on their person.  But moving on.

In the 90s, titanium was added to wetsuits and is now a regular feature in the more pricey suits. The cool thing about titanium is that when it’s woven into the suit, it helps retain body heat by creating maximum thermal insulation. Remember, these suits were originally developed for immersion into freezing, soul-shrinking, cold water. They are a must, especially if you want to surf all year round and not be fatally stricken by hypothermia in the process.

Fancy Schmancy Wetsuits.

Now that wetsuits have evolved into being worn for sports (mainly surfing), they help protect against harsh waves (currents and rip tides), debris and anything else in the water that could harm you. They also help you stay afloat. Technology has improved at warp speed over the years and now there are some wetsuits that are made from recycled plastic bottles. Some are heated by batteries, while others even have personal stereos attached to them. Fan-cee! However, the thought of electricity in water always has the potential for disaster. In this case, we’ll take the suit without the speakers, thank you.

They Don’t Keep the Water Out. They Let Water In.

Wetsuits are designed to let a small amount of water in as you swim in the depths of the ocean, snapping photos as you come eye to eye with the creatures that lurk below. A thin layer of water is trapped between your skin and the suit to keep you warm and toasty in the frigid deep water. The black color (in addition to attempting, repeat attempting, to create a slim silhouette) also helps absorb the sun, which keeps the heat inside.

Wetsuit or Not, You Deserve the Beach.

So whether you decide to go all in with this detailed, involved, awkward process and scuba dive, or you just want to be entertained by someone struggling to get into these necessary, but contrary suits, you’ll want to do this in the Caribbean. And get there via CheapCaribbean.com. It’s the only way to go.

It’s simple, easy and an awesome one-stop shop for your all-inclusive beach getaway. Just call 1-800-915-3162 to talk to one of our Beachologists, or go to our site where you can browse our seemingly endless selection of the most gorgeous resorts and beaches on the planet. Do it today. You can thank us when you get back.

Lisa Mitchell

I am a blogger for CheapCaribbean.com who is a travel junkie and addicted to the beach.

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