|Thermocline full suit. Pic taken off Fourth Element website (www.fourthelement.com)|
I live and dive in a region of the world that I can just jump in and dive in just my tee shirt and shorts. In fact, that was what I used to do until a wave pushed me towards a barnacle covered mooring line while I was at the surface waiting for other divers. Although the line went up between my legs (I can imagine the men crossing their legs as I describe this), I was fortunate to escape with just scratches on my inner thighs from the barnacles. That wave also pushed me towards a full suited wetsuit since that fateful moment.
I know of many people who complain about wetsuits: they are too much hassle to put on; they are too heavy when wet, making it a pain to lug around in a dive bag; takes too long to dry; and the valid point of all- they smell after a while. I'm not sure what exactly causes the odour (well, pee is one obvious reason) but body oil and sweats get trapped in a neoprene wetsuit, creating a breeding ground for bacteria. Personally, I love my wetsuit and to overcome the issue of how long it takes to pull it on, I'll pull on the bottom half ahead of time, taking my own sweet (or "sweat" if the weather is hot and you end up dancing with yourself as you struggle to get in) time. But I do dislike having to use a wetsuit at the pool when I'm teaching. It takes up space in my bag, and besides having to cope with the weight of my own wet gear, I have to struggle with my students' wet (and heavy) gear too.
How Does It Work?
I came across the Fourth Element Thermocline a couple of years ago when Living Seas (the local dive shop that I teach for), and I was surprised when I laid my hands on it. First of all, it was LIGHT! According to their website, the full suit weighs less than 1kg! A typical full suit (depending on the thickness) is at least twice of that. The outer layer is of a smooth material but what surprised me was the inner layer: a fleece like material! Unlike neoprene, having the Thermocline against the skin just felt really comfortable, so smooth.
According to information that I've found, it's provides the warmth equivalence of a 2mm wetsuit, neutrally buoyant, breathable (meaning you won't sweat to death wearing this during surface interval), and... QUICK DRY!
Ok, enough of the technical mumbo jumbo, let's talk about how it feels in the water.
The first time I dived with it was during pool sessions with my students. The location of the pool is on top of a hill, with classes held in the evenings and going for up to 3 hours each time, it can get pretty cold by the end of the night, especially when the wind is blowing. Keep in mind that as with a wetsuit, the Thermocline needs to be snug to prevent water from flowing in and out of the suit and hence causing a loss of body heat. I was using the long sleeve top which comes with a front zipper, a much appreciated improvement over the first version, making it much simpler to squeeze into it. Getting into it, it felt so good, and fitting... so fitting that it reminded me of my dietary excesses and the need to exercise much harder if I wanted to look good in it.
Getting into the water, the coolness of the water crept into my shorts, and I waited for the feeling to hit my upper body... nothing! In fact, I only felt the water creeping in from the bottom of the Thermocline and even then, I was still comfortable by the end of the night.
Getting out of the water, I expected heavy dripping from the top considering that it's a fleece lining, but it really wasn't much of it at all. When I took it off, it definitely felt heavier then when it was dry, but it wasn't much heavier, and my body felt dry. It was as if the fleece had a toweling effect on my body. After wringing out the water, it felt close enough to the dry weight. When I got home half an hour later, it was practically dry.
During open water dives, I use the vest version under my 3mm wetsuit when I feel that the water gets a little too cool for me, or when it would be a long dive. I had previously used neoprene vests before and it can get a little hard to get the wetsuit over because of the thickness. The smoothness of the Thermocline makes it easy to just slip the wetsuit over. In fact during my last trip, I had my vest on for the early dive and I had expected it to be cold after the rain. We ran into numerous thermoclines (erm.. the play on the word is completely unintended) and I was completely comfortable when the water was about 27 degrees celsius, but it was a tad warm when we hit pockets of 30 degrees water. I'm sure that I would be comfortable if I was diving with the Thermocline full suit. Another great thing about layering with the Thermocline, is that because it's neutrally buoyant, it means that I won't have to carry extra lead weight like how I would if I had another layer of neoprene.
On the way back to Singapore on the boat, I hung my gear up to dry and I turned the vest insideout so that the fleece could be dried by the breeze of the moving boat. While my wetsuit was still damp in some areas after 6 hours of flapping in the wind, the Thermocline vest was dry after an hour. I must admit that the quickness left bit somewhat disconcerted, and I took a whiff and expected it to have some funky smell of the sea: nothing. Quick dry, lightweight, neutrally buoyany, no smell (well, at least for mine).. I'm very happy. Oh, another great thing is that it's machine washable. So for those of us who like to throw everything into the washer, the Thermocline can be machine washed!
The saying "best thing since sliced bread" is a pretty apt description of the Thermocline. I mean, I've always been a big proponent of wearing full length wet suits, but the weight, smell and how long it takes to dry had been big bugbears for me over the years. I came to know of Fourth Element when I first started diving in a drysuit, and the guys from Living Seas recommended the Fourth Element Xerotherm undergarments for tropical diving. It kept me comfortably warm while wicking the perspiration away during dives (a tee shirt simply does not do the same job because you would emerge dripping wet), keeping me dry. We were all so impressed with Fourth Element and Living Seas secured the distributorship for Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Hong Kong and China.
With ADEX (Asian Dive Expo) coming up 19-21 April 2013 at the Marina Bay Sands, pop in at the Living Seas booth and check out the Thermocline. It's definitely a worthwhile investment. I've got 2 pieces of it and now contemplating a third to add to my collection of Thermocline as well as drysuit undergarments. If you're in the region in which Living Seas distributes, you can write to Living Seas to enquire about your local retailer.
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