Is Neoprene all the Same?

The simple answer is no!

For those who venture underwater and scuba dive, will require a second skin – a wetsuit.

Modern neoprene has gone through many changes over the years. Its formula and components have changed, and manufacturers vary how they produce their own type of neoprene. Some more expensive than others, quality and thickness differ too. Your in-water activity should determine what type, thickness and model of wetsuit you would require.

Original Neoprene:

Back in the 1930’s, neoprene was originally marketed as ‘DuPrene’. This was a different type of neoprene from what we know and recognise today. During the 1950’s an American physicist recognised the benefit of air filled, rubber material produced in layers to form a wetsuit. This type of wetsuit was designed to insulate against cold water. Each layer of neoprene traps thousands of tiny bubbles, which was thought to slow body heat from being transferred to the surrounding water.

Closed Cell Neoprene:

At a later date, a pioneer called Jack O’Neil invented the closed cell neoprene wetsuit. This wetsuit, in the beginning was marketed to surfers. Other manufacturers, like Body Glove soon followed in the same footsteps as O’Neil and the scuba diver wetsuit was born. The material was made of sponge rubber and was quite difficult to don. Talcum powder was used to make things glide a little easier, but the sheets of raw foam rubber were very fragile. If you were quite rough and ready with your wetsuit while donning it, often the seams would tear, leaving holes in the suit. Black rubber was the standard basic colour for all wetsuits at this present time.

Progress:

After the foam rubber suits, progress was made and a nylon lining was placed inside the wetsuit. This made the wetsuit easier to put on, but it became less flexible and more rigid. Manufacturers began placing reverse strips around the cuffs and neck to create a more effective seal and slow water ingress.

1960’s Outer Lining:

Around this period a second outer lining was placed over the rubber wetsuit. In the 1960’s some wetsuits became quite colourful, but the colour trend did not take a grip until the late 1970’s and 1980’s. Panels with different colours were sewn together, logos and patterns began to appear on some suits. Now wetsuits had an outer lining and a nylon inner lining, it made them more resistant to wear and tear. They had a colour flare which let you stand out at the dive site and they were easier to don and doff, compared to the foam rubber wetsuits.

Sewing Seams:

The earlierst form of wetsuit has its seams sewn together by overlapping the two open edges of the garment. With the wetsuit being difficult to don and doff, seams would tear apart and rip open the foam rubber. The needle holes would expand as the foam rubber stretched, water would then enter the wetsuit through the enlarged holes.

Taping:

In the 1960’s a method called seam taping was introduced. A strip of strong nylon cloth with a very thin, but solid waterproof backing was applied either with a chemical solvent or with a hot rolling heat-sealer to melt the tape to the neoprene. Technology like this allowed the wetsuit to be sewn, then taped to help take the stress off the initial seam joining. It made the BlindAnother method was to glue the seams. This has its downsides, the raw foam that was glued to foam proved not to be very resistant. This often caused leakages at the seams and sometimes, if the workmanship was poor it often split.

Blindstitch Seams:

This appeared after the nylon-backed neoprene had been available. The curved needle of a blindstitch sewing machine does not penetrate all the way through the neoprene. It has a similarity with the overlock stitch used on t-shirts. The curved needle enters the neoprene at a shallow depth, dips behind the fabric backing, crosses the glue line and emerges from the surface on the same side of the neoprene. Needle holes do not go all the way through the neoprene. Water is eliminated by this method. The seams lay flat and much closer to the skin.

Neoprene of Today:

Today’s neoprene is strong, flexible and more environmentally friendly. It is easier to don and allows much more freedom of body movement. Different thicknesses are available, as well as zippers on arms and legs. Wetsuits are made for Scuba divers, Free divers and Surfers each have their own specific needs, thickness and designs.

Scuba Divers:

Require a wetsuit that doesn’t easily compress and provides flexibility. It should be easy to don and doff with a good lining that moves water away from your body. Cheap wetsuits do not insulate well and are petroleum based. Some people show allergic reactions to petroleum based neoprene, quality is paramount for good insulation and comfort. Form and fit is very important, as well as the correct thickness.

Surfing Wetsuits:

These are very flexible but unsuitable for scuba diving. They compress quickly at depth, provide little or no insulating features and are often quite thin. Surfing wetsuits are designed to keep you warm above the water and should not be worn under a wetsuit.

Free Diving Wetsuits:

These wetsuits are often a two part open cell design. They are hard to put on, often require lubricants to aid donning. The free diving wetsuit offers very good insulation at depth and keeps the diver warm for long periods. These wetsuits are not designed for scuba divers.

Environment:

The new components of an environmental friendlier wetsuit are limestone. Neoprene such as Scubapro’s X-Foam is one of the greenest compounds on the market. Even the glue used to bind the seams is solvent free and water based. The other wetsuit is the Yamamote #38, made from limestone with a honeycomb bubble pattern for strength, flexibility and warmth. It has super heat retention, high flexibility, very resistance to water pressure and is light weight.

Come and try out our wetsuits at Dive Smart Gozo!