“I absolutely will not wear a Speedo . . . ever.” proclaimed a newly hired instructor at the dive resort. He was staring aghast at the bevy of tanned, attractive, veteran instructors prancing around with their goods on display. “You can’t sell it if you don’t advertise!” I joked. But this was not the reason that most of the instructors preferred skimpy speedos to the more socially acceptable board shorts. Board shorts tend to bunch up under wetsuits, leading to chaffing, and occasionally, to more serious problems. A friend of mine was struck with decompression sickness when his board shorts bunched up under his wetsuit and restricted blood flow to one of his legs. The new instructor eventually succumbed to practicality and purchased his own man-thong, but for divers who dislike the idea of wearing a Speedo, there are other options.
1. Board Shorts
Board shorts are the most common type of men’s swimsuit (at least in North America) and most men show up for open water courses with these loose-fitting, quick-drying shorts. The disadvantage of board shorts is that they wrinkle and bunch under wetsuits, requiring the diver to straighten them out once he has squeezed into his wetsuit. Smoothing board shorts under a tight-fitting wetsuit can be difficult, and most professional divers who must don a wetsuit multiple times during the day quickly find an alternative.
2. Women’s Swimsuits
Women have an advantage when it comes to finding garments to wear underneath their wetsuits. Most women’s swimsuits hug the body tightly and do not shift as the diver dons her wetsuit. However, a wetsuit will press decorative swimsuit features such as knots, beads, metal and wood into the diver’s skin uncomfortably. Simple string bikinis or athletic-style swimsuits are usually preferable to fancier suits. (Knotting string bikini tops on the side will prevent the strings from jamming a wetsuit’s zipper.) Strapless swimsuit tops are usually a bad idea, as they may be pulled off when the diver removes her wetsuit.
3. Men’s Briefs
This skimpy men’s swimsuit is perfect for layering under a wetsuit. Men’s briefs, such as the Speedo brief, stay in place and do not bunch or shift when donning and removing a wetsuit. Many dive instructors use briefs for this reason. The downside of men’s briefs is that many men are hesitant or embarrassed to wander around scantily clad on a dive boat or at a dive shop, despite the practical advantages of the swimsuit.
4. Bicycle-Style Shorts
Tight fitting bicycle-style shorts work well under a wetsuit. They provide more coverage than men’s briefs or women’s bikini bottoms, and have the additional advantage of helping a wetsuit to slip easily over a diver’s thighs. Some divers use commercially available bicycle shorts, but tight-fitting swim shorts are also available, such as nylon/spandex Speedo Jammers. Women who opt for bicycle style shorts often pair them with sports bra style tops or tankinis.
5. Neoprene Shorts and Pants
Neoprene shorts and pants are available through many wetsuit manufacturers, such as Waterproof and Radiator. These garments are designed for divers to layer under wetsuits; they tightly hug a diver’s body and will not shift or bunch. Like bicycle shorts, neoprene shorts will allow a wetsuit to slide easily over a diver’s thighs. Neoprene shorts have the advantage that they provide additional thermal protection. However, neoprene is buoyant, and a diver who uses neoprene shorts may need to use slightly more weight on a scuba dive to compensate for the increased buoyancy of his undergarments.
6. Neoprene Vests and Shirts
Neoprene vests are an excellent option for divers who chill easily. Layering a neoprene vest (particularly a hooded vest) under a wetsuit is an excellent way to conserve warmth without increasing wetsuit thickness. Neoprene vests help a wetsuit to slide over a diver’s chest easily, and provide coverage for more modest divers. Some divers wear only a neoprene vest, while others layer swimsuits underneath.
7. Dive Skins and Rash Guards
Warm-water divers often dive in only a dive skin or rash guard, but these items can also be layered under a wetsuit. Dive skins and rash guards are available in a variety of materials, including lycra and neoprene. They come in a range of styles, including long sleeve and short sleeve shirts, long and short pants, and full-body jumpsuits. These garments aid a diver in donning and removing his wetsuit, and provide solar protection at dive sites (many even have UV-protection). Thin neoprene dive skins and rash guards give a diver additional thermal protection when layered under a wetsuit. Some wetsuit manufacturers have created dive skins in innovative materials, such as Oceanic’s Lavacore product line, which combines fleece, lycra and other materials to provide extra warmth.
Some types of underwear are obviously inappropriate for scuba diving (such as the underwear to the left). Still, underwear can be worn under a wetsuit, but be prepared to receive the occasional condescending stare from other divers if your underwear looks like, well, underwear. Cotton underwear does not last long when worn underneath a wetsuit, but other materials fare better. Lycra and spandex pants and tops, especially athletic garments such as sports bras, can often be used interchangeably with swimsuits. When I started diving, I used a Victoria’s Secret spandex sports bra under my wetsuit. I took care to dry it completely after diving and it lasted for years. Athletic undergarments are often cheaper than swimsuits, and work just as well as the alternatives.
Veteran scuba divers will remember when wearing pantyhose under a wetsuit was standard operating procedure. Before wetsuits had linings, pulling a wetsuit on was nearly impossible without using something to allow the wetsuit to slide over a diver’s skin. Clever divers began stealing their wives’ pantyhose to aid in donning their wetsuits, and it was not uncommon to see teams of macho scuba divers decked out in stockings before a dive. These days, most divers opt for dive skins to aid in sliding on difficult wetsuits, but the occasional pantyhose-wearing diver can still be spotted. If you see a diver in pantyhose, chances are that he has been diving for a long time, and has some fascinating scuba stories to share!
10. Nothing At All!
Why wear anything under your wetsuit? Provided that a diver has a place to change into his suit, there is nothing wrong with going commando. Wetsuits are continuously evolving, and many are coated with a inner linings that make sliding them on and off easy, even without undergarments. Some divers prefer wearing nothing under their wetsuits because doing so avoids the necessity of packing a swimsuit; others just like the way it feels. When diving commando for the first time, just remember not to rip your wetsuit off after a dive!