*Disclaimer: After reading one of my freelance stories, 7till8 sent me a custom wetsuit for consideration of review. All opinions, however, are my own.
In 2015 I finally got certified as a scuba diver. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done and I’ve taken advantage of that certification ever since. From Thailand’s Islands to the shipwrecks in the Philippines, Komodo National Park in Indonesia to the Red Sea in Egypt, I’ve loved it all. But, while I absolutely love the diving part of it, there is one part that of the experience the I dread; the part where the staff look through their supply of women’s wetsuits trying to find one to fit me. Because no matter where I go, it’s always a struggle. Women’s wetsuits aren’t made for body shapes like mine.
This is a problem for many female scuba divers. Women’s wetsuits seem to be made with one body type in mind; a tall, slim one. Which is great if you are tall and slim, but for women like me who are curvy, or women who are shorter, well it sucks. I’ve never been able to find a women’s wetsuit to fit my body. Most dive shop operators look at me and immediately hand me a men’s suit. Of course, in order for the suit to fit my curvy frame means it’s ridiculously large in other areas; usually arm and leg length, and then shoulders. Not only is the fit awkward, but it also allows in quite a bit of water which basically defeats the purpose of wearing a wetsuit in the first place.
For two years I kept my mouth shut about it. It wasn’t ideal, but I still got to dive. However, after a particularly embarrassing experience in Vancouver last year, I decided it was time to speak up. Livestrong published my personal story of how I was humiliated and literally shredded the skin off my fingers all for just trying to do what I love. It’s not right. I may not have the “ideal” body, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be able to scuba dive. And while it’s easy for people to say if the dive centres don’t have one to fit, buy your own, the reality of actually doing that isn’t so simple. It’s back to the same thing; women’s wetsuits aren’t designed for my body type and the men’s wetsuits don’t fit properly and therefore don’t do their job.
I shared my story in the hopes of opening a discussion about the disconnect between body size and adventure sports, and to let other women with the same issues to know that they are not alone. But, more than anything else, I hoped that wetsuit manufactures would take notice and step up. That they would realize that something was wrong and come to not just my rescue, but to the rescue of many female divers around the world.
Well, guess what? One did.
A couple of months after sharing my story I received an email from 7till8 Custom Wetsuits. It’s a new company based out of California that offers custom made wetsuits for scuba diving and surfing. I was enticed by the idea of a custom suit fit for me, but I had never heard of them before. A quick check online showed great reviews and partnerships with some pretty big names including Red Bull, Disney, and even the San Francisco Fire Department. That was pretty impressive, so I decided to give 7till8 Custom Wetsuits a shot.
What first grabbed my attention was the variety of options when it came to thickness and material. Being Canadian, and since my brother recently got certified, I decided to go for a 5mm that would allow me to dive in the area around my home. The waters are cooler here so I loved the idea of having a thicker suit that would allow me to dive here in Ontario, and therefore be able to dive more often. However, when it came to the materials I was thrown. I could choose between “Flex”, “Deep”, and “Yamamoto”. Despite the descriptions, I was still confused as to what would be best, so went straight the source for some help. A couple of quick questions about my diving experience and they type of diving I did allowed my contact to recommend that I go with Yamamoto; the lightest and warmest neoprene available on the market. I was also told that it was super soft and felt really nice; can’t go wrong with that. She further suggested I add ankle zippers to make getting in and out of the suit even easier. Confident that she knew what she was talking about, I followed her suggestions.
With the thickness and materials decided, my next step was to upload three photos of myself (back, front, and side) and to measure. To be honest, this was the part I was most worried about. I’ve had custom made clothing before in Vietnam and I know from experience that measurements are just the first steps; everything I had made in Hoi An had to be adjusted a couple of times. With something as form-fitting as a wetsuit, I was worried that it might not work out as perfectly as I hoped. So with the help of my mom, I followed the video, measured, and submitted my order.
Under thirty minutes later I received an email from one of the staff. Curious I opened it only to find that he had noticed that I followed the measurements for men’s wetsuits not women’s wetsuits, and therefore would need to start over. Oops.
I’ll tell you, I felt pretty dumb (it’s actually really obvious where to select women’s or men’s, which made me feel even dumber) but was thrilled at how quickly the 7till8 team picked up my mistake and notified me that I needed to correct it. So we brought out the measuring tape again and repeated the measuring steps- this time making sure I clicked custom women’s wetsuit. It made a whole lot more sense this time around since the model in this video was a woman and I could more accurately judge where exactly I was supposed to be measuring. And, while I definitely needed my mom’s help with the measurements, it was pretty easy.
Order placed (with the proper measurements) all I had to do was wait and hope for the best.
Less than a month later my custom wetsuit was delivered. Excitedly, I unboxed it and pulled it out. A classic black women’s wetsuit with the 7till8 logo on the chest and my name already written inside. The neoprene was far softer than any other wetsuit I’d tried and it seemed pretty light for a full 5mm wetsuit; the Yamamoto material was as nice as I was promised.
But as nice looking, and soft, and lightweight was it was… the real question was, would it fit?
Remembering the pain from my torn and bloody fingers, I decided to take it as slow and easy as possible. There was no rush. But as I unzipped the ankles and pushed my feet through, I was surprised at how easy it was. I put it down to ankle zips; after all I was told they make it much easier. But as I pulled the soft Yamamoto neoprene up my legs the surprise stayed. It slid fairly easily up my body; over my thighs and hips, then my chest, I was downright amazed. No, it wasn’t as easy as putting on jeans and a t-shirt, but I didn’t know putting a wetsuit on could be anything but painful and, well, awkward. Yes, I needed to tug and adjust; it is, after all, a wetsuit. But there was no need to do those funny jump and pulls, no real yanking or awkward shimmying. And the best part? No raw, bloody fingers.
As I pulled my back zip up I turned and looked at myself in the mirror. It was a little long in the sleeves; obviously, I didn’t measure quite as perfectly as I should have, but a couple centimetres in arm length is nothing to complain about. However, other than that it fits pretty much perfectly. As surprising as it was to finally have a wetsuit that fit, I was more surprised by the fact that my custom wetsuit was actually kind of flattering (by wetsuit standards of course). As a plus size woman, swimwear really isn’t my favourite attire, but having a custom wetsuit that actually fit without any extra lumps/bumps meant it didn’t make me feel worse about my body.
As someone who has stressed and struggled over wetsuit rentals for nearly three years now, I can’t tell you how much of a relief it is to finally have my own. One that fits me perfectly.
So, for all the other ladies out there (and I know from personal messages and comments that there are many), I’m here to tell you that there is an easy, painless, and friendly solution: a custom wetsuit from 7till8.