One of the coolest aspects of spearfishing is that even when you’re just practicing to improve your skills, you can still be out hunting. It’s for that reason that I recently added some high performance triathlon wetsuits to my ever-growing collection of spear gear.
Typically, when I go spearfishing, I wear a wetsuit made by one of the sport-specific custom dive suit manufacturers crafted to my exact measurements in some kind of oceanic pattern. Doesn’t matter if I’m going shallow water “reefing,” nosing around in kelp beds, or journeying into deep water for some serious “blue water hunting,” if I’m taking a speargun into the brine, a wetsuit is always my dive buddy.
First and foremost, wetsuits insulate against the cold; hypothermia is a very real and deadly hazard that spearos face, even in relatively warm water. Second, a wetsuit makes it that much easier to cock my speargun; after repeated shots, a chest pad definitely helps soften the maneuver, especially when using a longer, more powerful gun that employs three or four massive rubberbands to propel the shaft. Wetsuits also offers protection against reefs (reef rash sucks!), underwater debris, jellyfish, and a whole host of toothy predators. Granted, if you get chomped on by a big shark (like a mako, tiger, or, gulp!, a great white), the neoprene isn’t going to stop those scalpel sharp teeth from shredding your flesh. However, the suit might just keep you alive by diminishing the loss of blood or, at worst, keep your body parts and vital organs contained and/or attached until you can get help.
The only real negatives to wearing a wetsuit is that they can be slightly restrictive of your movements (especially the thicker, cold water 7mm suits). Additionally, they can be tough to put on—and that’s when they’re dry. Ask anyone who’s ever donned a cold, wet wetsuit and their retelling of that tale will undoubtedly include more than a few F-bombs. I should add that you should avoid eating asparagus before diving with a wetsuit, but that’s an entirely different matter and I don’t really feel like explaining the reason to the unitiated.
All kidding aside, the pros of wearing a wetsuit outweigh the cons by a wide margin, and I’ve yet to encounter any spearos who hunt without one. Sure, you could make a case for not using one in ultra-warm tropical waters, but when you consider all the jellyfish, fire coral, moray eels, sea lice, and invisible but devastating UV rays, even a Lycra rashguard is a worthwhile addition to your battery of dive gear.
But as the title of this article suggests, I’m not talking about “typical” spearfishing wetsuits. I’m talking about a very different type of wetsuit built for a far different purpose. Stay with me and I’ll explain my reasoning.
For most spearos, there are TWO ways to hunt.
Tactic #1 – Drop down to your depth of choice, wait until a fish swims within range (hopefully before the air in your lungs runs out), and smoke that pesce. For those with a breathhold that rivals Aquaman, this isn’t such a bad approach to the sport. Once the calm and quiet returns to the area following your descent, sea life in the vicinity will resume its normal activity and, if Neptune is on your side, a real slob of a gamefish will happen along, present you with a perfect broadside shot, and then it’s fresh sashimi and cold cerveza for everyone. Unfortunately, most people don’t have the ability to hold their breath for two, three or four minutes. For some, thirty seconds is the max, while others can stretch it out to at least minute. But unless you can give yourself a legitimate chance of blending into the aquatic envirmonet (which usually requires time), the sit-and-wait method of spearfishing probably won’t work out for you.
That leaves Tactic #2—surface hunting. By far the most common method used by spearos hunting in shallow water (where the bottom is both visible and reachable), this involves swimming along the surface, breathing via snorkel, until you spot a fish you want to skewer—or a structure that looks like it might be home to an edible gamefish. Once your prey has been sighted, you descend, aim and fire.
Selective hunters will spend the vast majority of their hunting time on the surface, waiting for either the perfect fish or the perfect opportunity. Depending on depth and visibility, training your eyes to spot your prey (or places your prey might be hiding) takes time. And practice. Lots of practice. Even the slightest differentiation in shape or color pattern, or the smallest of movements can result in a trophy gamefish worthy of a shot attempt.
Because triathlon wetsuits are designed to be buoyant—considerably more buoyant than regular diving/freediving wetsuits—they will not only help you reduce fatigue on the surface, but, assuming you don’t overload your weight belt or vest, they will aid in strengthening your legs, as more force will be required to help you submerge.
While there are a number of manufacturers in this arena, I tried the wares from three different companies.
If you’re looking for a champagne serious triathlon wetsuit but you only have a beer budget, Orca’s S6 is going to be very tough to beat. Available in both sleeveless and full-sleeve variants (I always go with full-sleeve models as they mimic the wetsuits I typically wear when spearfishing), the S6 is surprisingly flexible. This is likely due to its 2mm thick underarm, shoulder and arm panels, which combine seamlessly with the 5mm Yamamoto 39cell front panel and lower back panel. Then there’s the Super Composite Skin (SCS) coating, which actually repels water and reduces surface resistance, resulting in less friction, which equates to greater speed. In fact, this suit actually makes you feel like you’re gliding over water rather than swimming through it. And for a mere $239 MSRP, it’s a helluva lot of wetsuit for very little money.
For more information visit: www.orca.com
The next two suits will take you deep into super hero territory, because wearing either of them will make you both look and feel like you’re a member of the X-Men.
TYR HURRICANE CAT 5
Although TYR’s Hurricane CAT 5 represents a serious price jump from the previous wetsuit (to the tune of $500+), if you have the desire and means to pay for premium performance, this dive skin definitely deserves consideration. TYR is a well known brand among serious endurance and triathletes, and their “latest and greatest” creation picks up where their other offerings left off. And trust me when I tell you, those other offerings had already set the bar at an almost impossible to match level. Featuring specially designed elevation panels in the thighs, buttocks, obliques, core and chest, which elevate a swimmer’s position in the water to create the ideal body position, resulting in maximum bouyancy and speed, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this suit’s advancements over previous generations. Honestly, most of the associated “tech” is way above my comprehension and pay grade, so I’ll skip the science and keep it casual: this isn’t so much a wetsuit as it is a flightsuit for the water. Compared to other wetsuits I’ve used—including many freedive wetsuits I’ve owned—the Hurricane CAT 5 gave a me a “water feel” unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Ferrari shorns its cars’ wheels with Pirelli tires for optimal road feel. In that respect, TYR’s offerings are like Pirellis for your skin. I could go on with the praise, but unless you experience this wetsuit for yourself, you’ll never truly get it. It’s like trying to describe what chocolate tastes like. All the adjectives in the world don’t add up to the experience of a morsel in your mouth. At an MSRP of $749.99, this wetsuit isn’t for penny-pinchers. But considering its quality and durability, if you’re looking for upper echelon performance, TYR’s Hurricane CAT 5 is an investment worth making.
For more information visit: www.tyr.com
ROKA MAVERICK X
The apex predator of triathlon wetsuits, if TYR’s Hurricane CAT 5 is a perfect 10, I’d have to give Roka’s Maverick X an 11. In fairness, the water feel is extremely similar, and I’d be willing to bet most people—including seasoned open-water swimmers and triathletes—would have a difficult time telling them apart if they were blindfolded. But those that know the difference, or more importantluy, those that need the difference—in competitions where seconds, and even fractions of a second matter—the additional $150 or so they’ll have to spend for the Roka Maverick X will be money well spent. Once again, the many impressive features and specs of the suit are well over my head, and far beyond the “reasonable” needs of a wetsuit that’s intended for spearfishing practice sessions. Having said all that, if you’re the kind of person that likes to park a yellow Lamborghini amid a sea of brown Corollas, this wetsuit is tailor-made for you. Speaking of tailor-made, while all these wetsuits were off-the-rack offerings, I was truly impressed with the fit and comfort of all three, although I must admit that the TYR and Roka fit the best. Just choose the appropriate size from the charts each manufacturer provides and you should be just fine. For comparitive purposes, I’m 5’8” and 175 lbs, with a reasonably muscular build and in both cases the ML fit me perfectly. Roka’s Maverick X has an MSRP of $900. Yes, it’s roughly the same price as a new sit-on-top kayak, but if your aquatic adventures have you in the water and not on top of it, this wetsuit is the end-all of surface-specific waterskins.
For more information visit: www.roka.com