Getting wet? Better get a suit

Reporter staff writerMay 9, 2008 

Residents and visitors alike know that beyond the shore, the Florida Keys offer some of the best diving in the world.

That is why there is never a dive shop too far away no matter where you are in the Keys.

There is no shortage of places to charter dive and snorkeling trips or to buy the equipment needed to test the water and explore its beauty. One piece of equipment that comes in handy when exploring the many reefs and wrecks around the Florida Straits is a wetsuit.

Wetsuits come in all sizes and a few shapes. The one you need depends on you — and the time of year you decide to take the plunge.

“Locals have a tendency to be colder,” said Guy Sheets of Quiescence Dive Shop in Key Largo. “Our blood tends to thin out.”

Sheets says you can gauge how the water will effect you by comparing how your body does in the cold air on land.

“Some people are more susceptible to the cold,” said Sheets. “It is all a preference.”

Sheets says to remember that no matter how warm the water, it will still be colder then your body temperature.

During the winter months, ocean waters in the Keys are in the 70-degree range, as much as 28 degrees colder than your core temperature. “It is going to draw the heat right out of you,” said Sheets. To prevent this, Sheets says to get a wetsuit that covers your torso and underarms, two spots that heat escapes from most.

A full wetsuit or a half wetsuit, also known as a shorty, will do the job. The difference between the two is that the full suit covers and protects the legs.

Depending on how well you handle the cold, you can buy thicker or thinner suits.

The thickness of suits is measured in millimeters. The most common suit is 3 mm. The thickest is about 7 mm.

Thinner suits, like .5 mm ones, don’t provide warmth but do provide protection from coral and rusty wrecks.

“It is not just about warmth. It is about protection,” said Sheets, saying that a thin full-length suit with gloves can protect divers from things like mooring lines and fire coral.

“Fire coral will burn you for about a week,” Sheets said.

Snorkelers can also use thinner suits since they usually stay warmer by being closer to the surface.

“They have the sun radiating on them,” Sheets said. “They can also jump on the boat if they get cold.”

However, if you are one who needs the suit to keep toasty, you can always layer. There are wet vests, beanies and farmer john suits, which are overall wetsuits.

“Layers is the best way to go,” said Sheets. “You have to provide options for everybody.”

If you can’t find what you are looking for off the rack, there is always another option — have one made just for you.

Carolyn Tomes’ company Liquid Fit makes wet suits specifically designed for an individual — from their shape to color preference. “It is not the typical all black suit,” said Tomes. “We take 32 measurements of individual.”

Tomes says she started the company about 10 years ago after she started diving. She came up empty when she searched for a suit.

“I couldn’t find anything to fit me,” said Tomes.

So she decided to make her own.

Now she makes custom suits from her home base at Key Largo, selling them nationwide on her Web site www.liquid

Tomes has even made suits for performers at Sea World in San Antonio. She credits the popularity to the flexibility and fit of her suits.

“Suits are not flattering or comfortable when they squish the body,” said Tomes.

Tomes prides herself on contouring her suits to fit and flatter women’s bodies.

“I want to come up with one that was just as pretty and flattering on land as it was useful in the water,” said Tomes.

Tomes’ suits, which can be made from 1.5 mm to 7 mm thick, do cost more, starting at $300.

Wetsuits in stores range from around $100 for a shorty 3 mm suit to $350 for a full-length 7 mm one.

Sheets and Tomes agree that the most important thing is making sure the suit fits you and your personal needs.

“It is all about the person,” said Sheets. “Everyone is different.”

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