I’ve braved hungry sharks, roaring currents, and unidentifiable dive boat food. My dive buddy is known for pushing me in front of approaching predators with big teeth while he makes a quick getaway behind me. On the whole, I am a pretty adventurous diver, not easily intimidated underwater. But, I have never been able to conquer my fear of the great scuba diving beast: my wetsuit.
My concern falls into two categories: not having it on me and having it on me. First, similar to chocolate and my big brown dog, I need a wetsuit. Without it, no matter how similar the ocean temperature is to bath water, I get cold and then move to a shivering state faster than an octopus can strip a tasty clam. In a last ditch effort to warm up I will swim back and forth like a crazed tuna, a maneuver that has gotten me “rescued” several times by dive masters thinking I was out of my gourd.
Dive boat personnel frequently get a chuckle out of my space suit. “You don’t need that thing,” they say. “There are enough monsters in the sea already!” Easy there, buddy. I didn’t make fun of your mismatching shoes or bad taste in tequila. I know my limitations, especially when it comes to body temperature, so I schlep my 4mm suit with me to all dive locations no matter how small my suitcase needs to be. 1 pair of shorts, 2 shirts, 1 case of M&Ms, 1 wetsuit, and 2 weeks: no problem!
Which brings me to my second category of concern: the suits are, by design, tighter than NYC rush hour traffic. They usually have a zipper, put there like bait to lure the diver into thinking they actually have a chance at getting into the suit. I have heard that powder can sometimes enable the process, but no amount of talc could help me win this battle of The Bulge.
Once on, the neoprene acts like kryptonite for a diver’s positive self image of their body. It is so tight, one would think it acts like a girdle. But, no. Every hot fudge sundae and grilled cheese (with bacon) transgression is highlighted by the silhouette of the black suit against the white background of the inside of the boat. I’m pretty sure it was a very thin woman’s idea to paint it white in the first place. I try to overcome the inner tube effect by sucking it in until I realize there are some body parts that will not appear smaller no matter how much I deplete the atmosphere.
But then, the other divers on the boat put on their vests, specially crafted jackets that can be inflated with air for buoyancy. Suddenly we are all equal again, an army of strange sea life covered in lumpy gear shuffling towards the back of the boat in our fins. Splash! I’m in, floating towards the Technicolor reef below, my surface insecurities far behind me. Never have I felt, or looked, so good.