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About wetsuits and neoprene

Wetsuits and neoprene accessories: they look all the same but...

Almost all wetsuits made for spearfishing are nowadays made of neoprene of various grades. The neoprene is a foam of “rubber” produced by few factories around the world.

 

The neoprene foam for wetsuits is made in different densities, each one with it's own characteristics for different applications.

 

Material

Diving wetsuits for spearfishing are made with two main types of neoprene: smoothskin/opencell and jersey/opencell. There are also other types like “plush” (sort of “wool” fabric inside) and jersey/jersey but their application is for scuba diving wetsuits and offer very poor performances for spearfishing wetsuits.

The Jersey/Jersey and smoothskin/jersey variants are used in most spearfishing wetsuits as finish in wrist and ankle bands, around the hood face band, highwaist part of trousers or in the lower part of the jacket as reinforcement.

The standard combination for spearfishing wetsuits is Jersey/Opencell: robust outside and warm inside, this combination has the disadvantage of getting colder if you make transfers with a boat... the outer layer of Lycra/Nylon will be wet and cold in windy conditions while a smoothskin/opencell is warmer outside of the water but it is also EXTREMELY delicate and very easy to rip apart wearing it or swimming around rocks. A compromise is the sandwich smoothskin/opencell with a layer of nylon fabric in the middle but it is also stiffer than a standard jersey/opencell.

 

Elbow and knee reinforcements

Despite the increasing popularity of printed reinforcements, the best method to protect week areas like elbows and knees is to use a foam lined with anti-cut fabric: one of the most common is called “Supratex” but there are many other variants almost impossible to tell apart. The printed reinforcements looks pretty but are not that good after all.

 

Chest reinforcement

All spearfishing wetsuits must have a chest reinforcement in the area where the speargun butt will be held when loading it. This is very important both for comfort and to avoid to rip the suit apart in case the speargun butt slip-off sideways.

 

Foam density

For spearfishing wetsuits we need to balance the thermal insulation with the resistance to compression. A wetsuit made for hunting in shallow and cold waters like in Denmark will need to favor the thermal insulation while a wetsuit for Mediterranean will favor compression resistance at depth below 15-20 meters.

 

Color

The discussion about black or camo (camouflage) is a never ending topic since always. I my opinion it depends all from the kind of fishing technique one is preferring. When fishing havørred at nigh the color doesn't really matter, a pink suit would do as well, but if one fish in shallow water trying to ambush the same havørred between the grass then the camo color will give you an edge compared to black wetsuits. Aspetto technique is also easier in camouflage color when you lay on grass or in a “window” between stones. The reason for this difference is that the fish uses the sight as primarily sense of location at a distance superior to the double of it's length and switch to the lateral line at closer range. The poor sight of fish make the contrast the main giveaway of the spearo position and a camo suit combined to a good camouflage of all other accessories also will help the spearo to disappear in the background.

Of course the noise of breathing, splashing and movements in general are sensed by the fish at log distance and can both attract or scare it: some predatory or territorial species will come to investigate while others will keep at large, so to be able to appreciate the difference of camouflage a spearo should master the art of “silence” first.

If you fish on wrecks or making yo-yo or sandy bottoms black is as good as camouflage: the contrast of your shadow against the clear sky will be the same.

 

Gluing/stitching

The glue based on neoprene must be applied in a strictly controlled environment as air humidity will lock the exposed layer during the pause between application and closure of the joint. If someone in the gluing department opens the door of the room at a wrong time the full batch is at risk...

The stitching of wetsuits must be made as “blind-stitch”: the machine will stitch only the fabric jersey side at a depth of around 30% of the foam thickness: in no case the wire must show on the inside of the wetsuit because there is where the water would come through. Only very poor quality wetsuits are made with pass-through stitching... but for luck it is easy to spot the difference.

 

About the raw materials

"Neoprene" is a VERY generic definition: there are two main families, CR and SCR. CR is 100% pure chloroprene material (the real “Neoprene”) and SCR is a mix between Butyl rubber and Chloroprene (generally 70% butyl and 30% chloroprene).

SCR has lower thermal performances, is less robust, is not really waterproof as it absorb more water and tend to squeeze permanently much faster because it has less closed bubbles in it's structure. CR instead is a much higher quality and all performance parameters are higher when compared to SCR of the same hardness.

 

Neoprene can be of different derivations: Oil based neoprene is only ~60% waterproof because the structure of the bubbles is not completely closed and has around 40% of open cells that will absorb water when squeezed. The newest kind of neoprene instead is derivative from limestone and is actually a byproduct of the cement manufacturing (i love this green side of it!) and has only 2% of water absorption. There are very few manufacturers of chloroprene raw material in US, China and Japan because they have literally mountains of pure limestone.

 

The raw material is sent to manufacturers that then transform it in neoprene foam, rubber, seals, cables cover etc... Those manufacturers are companies like Yamamoto, Jako, Sheico, Nam Liong, NJN etcetera. We should also remember that the largest manufacturing of neoprene goes in industrial applications (adhesives, gaskets, seals, electric cables covering etcetera) and only a minimal part goes to diving industry... and even a smaller insignificant part is actually used for spearfishing wetsuits! So basically we are not using a dedicated product but only what we can adapt from other applications.

 

The manufacturers of foamed sheets are having different processes, densities and so on and here come the real differences, but they are minimal and only an experienced athlete that has been able to try many kind of foam can spot the difference...



In Denmark, as far as you use CR foam, you are fine because the main difference is actually thermal insulation, resistance to compression and aging.

Lamberto Azzi
Divecenter.dk