Diving in the Pacific Northwest is different from warm water diving usually found in the tropical regions. Here we deal with cold water diving and thus the need for a decision between a wet or dry exposure suit. I knew ahead of time before even getting certified that I wanted to dive the Pacific Northwest. I knew that 100% of my dives initially were going to be cold water and while I look forward to dive destinations such as Asia, Australia, and South America I wouldn't be doing them any time soon.
Because of this I had to pick between a wet or dry suit. Both have pro's and con's and I ended up going with the dry suit for a few reasons. First of all I wanted to remain dry (for the most part) during, between, and after the dives, especially on days where I was diving multiple times. I also plan on diving during the winter months and staying dry will increase my chances of staying warm between dives. The next factor I felt was important was the time required to dry the suit after cleaning. Neoprene takes forever to dry and gets pretty heavy when wet. Dry suits come in a wide variety of materials including neoprene so I knew dry suits constructed of that material were also off my short list. Quick dry times were ideal. The last reason was the fact that dry suits require the use of an undergarment to provide warmth. Because of this you can custom tailor the level of undergarment required to fit your thermal needs.
One of my gripes about the dive industry is that there are to many choices. This is obviously a positive thing but for a new diver like myself it makes researching and more importantly choosing the correct gear complicated. Quality gear is expensive and when acquiring items with such a hefty price tag you really want to make sure you made the right decision. My first step in research was to literally visit all of the surrounding dive shops in my area, ask all the questions I could think of, and touch and try them on. The first obstacle was dry suit availability. If I was lucky enough to find a LDS with the dry suit in stock it usually wasn't in my size. At least, for the most part, I got to touch and feel most of the suits and get a better idea of how they were constructed and how they worked. After all was said and done I walked away with a good idea of what to focus on.
I narrowed the possible choices down to DUI, Whites, and Bare. The next step was to research everything I could on the internet about the three options. I quickly realized that all three were excellent options and it essentially boiled down to which camp of fanboyism I wanted to join. I ended up going with the Whites Fusion Dry Suit because it suited my needs the best. I felt that it gave me the widest range of motion, had the best fit, was the most comfortable, and had all of the accessories out of the box that I wanted. Big thanks to Wally at Tacoma SCUBA for taking the time to answer all of my questions. He went over every detail, explained the pro's and con's of the suit, and took my measurements to make sure all of the gear fit perfectly. Upon arrival at the shop it did just that. Everything about it was perfect except for two things, not Wally's fault may I remind you.
One of the reasons why I supported Tacoma SCUBA in my purchase of the dry suit was that Wally was including training as part of the deal. He set me up with Randy Williams and he taught me how to dive the suit. We went over the basics of the suit, how the different parts worked and how to maintain them, how to use the suit in the water, and how to deal with emergency situations. One of the first issues I had was with a leak in the dry suit. There was a small needle sized hole near the exhaust valve. The dry suit wasn't all that dry. Wally made it right by getting the necessary parts to fix the leak free of charge but you'd think that Whites would have better quality control.
For the time being I patched the hole with some Gorilla tape and after that the suit was 100% dry. This by the way was a pleasant surprise. Emergency drysuit repair on this suit is as simple as some tape. My next issue regarded quality control on the stitching of the right cuff. Part of it was beginning to unravel so I had to do some minor mending repair and sew it back together. Wally once again took care of the issue by offering to send it back to Whites for repair / replacement. I couldn't ask for any better customer service. Other then that the suit has been amazing and it's a dream to dive.
So what does this have to do with PADI considering Randy is a SDI / TDI Instructor? Well being the overly cautious diver that I am I felt the need for formal dry suit training. I thought I needed to read a book, take a written test, and do the certification through the proper channels. Boy was I wrong! After the dry suit class I felt cheated out of my money and it probably wasn't the school's fault. Randy did such a good job teaching me how to use that suit I didn't realize until after taking the PADI course that he covered all of the material and more! I now know that I didn't need the course but at least I got a certification out of it, some dives with an experienced instructor, and the peace of mind that I didn't leave anything out.
I'm glad I made the decision to dive dry. It add's a few extra items of complexity to your dive now that you have to control two buoyant devices instead of one. The dry suit adds a few more failure points which include inflator valves, exhaust valves, zippers and seals. The benefits of the dry suit clearly out weight the negatives so for me it's a no brainer. I'm curious as to how well this suit will hold up over the test of time. We'll see and I'll keep you posted if any issues arise.