Oceaner is a company in the Greater Vancouver area. Oceaner started as a dive charter that took divers up and down the coast of BC and Alaska in 1977. They changed to making wetsuits shortly after that. In the early 2000’s Kirk Krack and Martin Stepanek asked them about freediving wetsuits. Since then, Oceaner makes wetsuits for freedivers across the globe. We visited Oceaner’s facility, and Luca got the chance to review a custom wetsuit for Oceaner.
Freediving in Vancouver, BC
The lovely waters by Vancouver, British Columbia are a spectacular place to dive. Vancouver has what very few large, metropolitan coastal cities have: a set of fjords called Howe Sound that lies within steep mountains that soar to nearly 2 km altitude. Howe Sound is full of great diving spots that were sculpted by glacial recession thousands of years ago.
All of this is just a 15-minute drive from downtown Vancouver, and the access to the water is nearly as easy as entering Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas. A few meters from shore you will find steep underwater walls full of life, that extend to 80 meters depth and more.
The only catch? Well, our waters are cold pretty much all year round. The maximum surface temperature is about 20°C in the summer, and a thermocline results in temperatures of 6°C at 20 meters and sometimes shallower. Doing hangs below the thermocline is a challenge merely because of the temperature (your wetsuit becomes less effective at depth).
The Oceaner freediving wetsuit
This is why having a good quality wetsuit makes all the difference. It allows you to dive in the winter months, almost as if winter does not exist. So, I reached out to world-renowned wetsuit manufacturer Oceaner, based only 30 minutes from Vancouver, to get their top-of-the-line #COMP45 7mm wetsuit and put it to the test in our cold and beautiful waters.
Putting the Oceaner Comp45 freediving wetsuit to the test in the frigid waters of the Howe Sound, British Columbia. Photo by Sea to Sky Freediving.
Oceaner is well-known for the wetsuits they make, and professional athletes use them all over the world. However, the amount of dedicated cold water freedivers isn’t that many, even though cold water freediving is excellent for health and competition training: holding and controlling the breath is harder in cold water.
Oceaner’s custom made, unlined inside/outside 7mm thick Yamamoto 45 neoprene is exactly what I needed to face the waters of the Pacific Northwest. The design of the #COMP45 suit also takes into account the extra stretch required when placing the arms above the head for monofinning, and even at 7mm thick, it does so very impressively.
I tested the 7mm #COMP45 top coupled with only 3mm bottoms, in 10°C water (surface temperature only) for almost 2 hours. I was quite surprised by the warmth and comfort and walked out of the water with a smile on my face.
Comparisons with other suits
The comfort of a custom wetsuit is unbeatable, and the quality of neoprene is sure to keep you warm in all temperatures. There are a few things that other manufacturers do differently, and without judging which design is better, here is how they compare.
Firstly, the upper arm is one piece of neoprene from the arm to the neck line. This appears to cause some bending at the collar bone due to the thickness of the suit. Some manufacturers do this a little different. For example, the arm on an Elios wetsuit connects closer to the shoulder and on an Azure wetsuit the am is made of several pieces.
Secondly, on waist-high pants there is no added protection where the waist line is cut off. An extra thin band of neoprene or some stitching could prevent the waist from folding back and would provide some additional strength. Such a strip is present around the wrists, ankles and face line.
Lastly, beneath the armpits on the inside of the suit are additional strips of neoprene to support the connection of seams from the chest, back and arm pieces. These are a great idea (especially for the monofinner). I just can’t help but think they would be more effective if they were a little larger. In comparison, Elios uses a much longer strip that covers much of the seam but Azure uses a smaller patch.
Using the Oceaner Comp45 7mm freediving wetsuit top in the cold waters of Alberta's glacial lakes. When the water temperature is 5-6C degrees, you want a thick, comfortable and custom-fitted wetsuit. Photo by Sea to Sky Freediving.
Overall the details of the suit are spectacular, and I’m impressed by the care and precision that is clearly put into designing one of these custom made COMP45 suits. However, proper care is required while using the #COMP45 suit in the waters of the Pacific Coast since it is vulnerable to tearing by rubbing up on rock, barnacles or the friendly bites of sea lions, but I do think it’s worth it for the comfort and warmth it provides.
Remember to properly lube up using a biodegradable soap/conditioner that does not contain coral harming substance such as parabens, sodium lauryl/laureth sulfates, phthalates or petroleum by-products.
There are stunning places to freedive in cold water all around the world, from Canada to Iceland, northern Japan or Antarctica, they’re quite worth making the trip, just make sure to bring a wetsuit like the 7mm Yamamoto COMP45 by Oceaner.