Getting Dry Suit Certified
A year after getting my open water SCUBA certification, I had been on exactly one dive in Maui and gone back to Monterey zero times. Earlier this year, I thought: "That has to change!" I had been wanting to get back in the water but was nervous about committing to a group dive since it had been so long since my checkout dives, so I decided to tackle another bucket list item at the same time, and get my dry suit certification!
This served a couple of different purposes:
It gave me a chance to practice assembling my gear again under the supervision of a dive professional
I got to learn a practical new skill - diving Silfra in Iceland has been a bucket list item of mine since I went snorkeling there back in 2017, and I've become somewhat fascinated with the idea of polar diving, both of which will require dry suit certification
It gave me the opportunity to decide if I would dive Monterey dry or wet before I committed to buying my first set of SCUBA equipment
I got dry suit certified through the same shop that did my open water certification, Bamboo Reef. There were two other divers in the class with me, each of whom had a few more dives under their belt, but less cold water experience.
The materials for getting dry suit certified made the prospect a bit more intimidating than what it ended up being like to actually dive dry: I had visions of getting stuck upside down with all the air in my feet, catastrophic flooding, and a fear of being unable to manage my buoyancy with both the suit and my BCD to contend with. I felt immediately reassured by the matter-of-fact nature of my dive instructor, though, and we reviewed the pre-class work. SSI has an online portion of the class that is required before the in-person classroom time, with somewhere between 4-6 hours of study time. We then took the paper test based on our materials before getting into our suits for the first time and trying them out in the pool!
In SCUBA diving, there are two types of exposure suits that you can wear to stay protected and warm under water: wet and dry. Wet suits, like you might gather from the name, keep you warm while diving by heating up the water that flows in through the suit's neoprene and stays trapped against your body. Dry suit systems, on the other hand, keep you warm with layers of undergarments. The suit forms a seal around your neck and wrists, and you stay nice and cozy. To control the air in a dry suit, a hose connects an inflate valve on the suit to the tank. You add air throughout your dive and release it through a deflate valve (my suit had it on my left shoulder).
The main consideration that I noticed while diving in a dry suit was needing to keep the suit inflated so that it doesn't squeeze at depth. This has a slight impact on buoyancy, so most of my class pool time was spent practicing flips and rolls to make sure that I could right myself in the event that I put too much air into my suit and got turned upside-down. We also learned how to disconnect the air hose that goes from our tank to the suit in the event of a free flow, where the air continuously flows into the suit and causes you to ascend unintentionally.
Check Out Dives
I was a bit nervous after the pool session because I had been struggling with my flips, but when I tried on my suit in the store where I was renting gear, I was just excited! When I stepped into the water at San Carlos Beach and didn't get cold, I focused on recalling what I learned, practiced disconnecting and reconnecting my hose, did a flip, and then we went out and toured around the Breakwater wall.
After a quick surface interval, we swapped out our tanks and went out for a second dive. Despite ~50F/10C temperatures, I stayed snug during the dives and on shore during the interval, and it was delightful to get out of the water and take off the suit without needing to immediately dry off and get changed into warm clothes. Our instructor signed off on our dives, and we were officially certified!
While I can't wait to try diving in locations that necessitate a dry suit, I appreciated getting the chance to dive dry in Monterey because it helped me decide on my first exposure suit purchase, an 8/7mm "semi-dry" wetsuit by Aqua Lung. The perks of diving dry in Monterey were certainly nice, but with the price difference between a wetsuit and dry suit, and the lower maintenance of a wet suit, I decided that the SolAfx was a better first choice for me. So far, I've been loving it, but I'm definitely feeling the itch to take a trip to colder waters and practice what I've learned!
All in all, it feels like a great diving skill to have under my belt early on, and made me a more confident diver. Highly recommend!