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August 2011    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 37, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Shed Your Lycra Inhibitions

slinky Lavacore suits help keep you warm and keep out jellyfish

from the August, 2011 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Lycra skins afford no thermal gain but give a degree of protection against coral scrapes and the killer irukandji jellyfish in warm water. I've noticed that many of our overweight friends in the U.S. like the ease with which they can don a Lycra skin, and don't seem to care that they look like Mr. Potato Head while wearing it. No, for myself I'd rather stick with the cosmetic effect of a thin layer of neoprene. I've got my pride to think of.

So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I agreed to try out a new Lavacore suit. It's said to be the latest thing in lightweight suit solutions, with the insulation equivalent of 2mm in neoprene. It was designed in cooperation between the Aussies of Oceanic Australia and the Kiwis of Pinnacle Aquatics, is made in China, and was spurred on and marketed by Oceanic in the USA.

At first glance, it looked very much like a dreaded Lycra suit. "Lavacore is a technically advanced fabric, constructed and engineered exclusively for water sports requiring the ultimate in thermal control and superior comfort." Well, that's what they told me. They claim that although it looks and feels like a Lycra rash vest and provides as much stretch and comfort, it also has the insulation properties of a traditional neoprene wetsuit.

So What's it Made of?

The outer layer is Lycra, treated with a water-repellent effect to ensure fast water runoff and a reduction in wind chill. That may be so but I noticed that even in tropical Raja Ampat, I got quite chilled after a dive and driving back to base in an open boat, more than I did for comparison in a 3.5mm neoprene suit. Call me a wimp but those of you with more "natural bioprene" might not be so affected.

The middle layer is an impermeable breathable microporous high-stretch polyurethane film, which is windproof and breathable, allowing perspiration to be drawn away. Standing around on the jetty at Raja Ampat's Sorido Bay Resort, it certainly felt very warm and not at all sweaty. The inner layer is a sort-of-fleece that retains any water against your skin and thus is heated up by it, giving you the heat-insulating properties. The effect of this was that when I first dived into the water, I felt initially chilled but I soon forgot about it.

In the Water

A men's XL proved a little short in the body for me. The stretch factor allowed me to wear it comfortably, although this left a tantalising gap between the neckline and my own hood, ideal for a marauding killer irukandjii. Luckily, I didn't encounter one but I could have used the Lavacore hood instead, which has a long collar that covers the neck well.

The ankle straps made sure the legs didn't ride up, and a double layer of material was a thoughtful design addition that stopped any tendency for my computer to slip down my wrist.

With water surface temperatures of 87 degrees Fahrenheit and a chilling (I joke) 82 degrees at depth, the Lavacore suit certainly felt plenty warm enough. Beside the claim that it is equivalent to the insulation of about 2mm of neoprene, it is supposedly equivalent to as much as an additional 3mm when worn under a conventional suit. One benefit was that I hardly needed more lead than if I had been diving in the nude. It was refreshing to find that even I, with all the material needed to cover my voluminous water-displacing body, could get away with as little as four pounds of lead weights, even when using an aluminium tank.

The Look of Lycra

The suit also comes with socks of the same material and these work well when using full-foot, slipper-style fins. The whole effect is to cover the body well but wearing the whole ensemble tends to make you look like a diving Ninja. It seems the Aussies have taken the threat of the irukandji seriously. I can't tell you what I looked like in it. I was in the company of loyal friends and they would certainly not have ridiculed my appearance. Full suits come in six sizes for men (S - 2X) and women (S - XL) and list price is $200;

- John Bantin

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