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The best wetsuit for freediving in Northern California

The wetsuit is the priciest piece of your freediving kit. For your first class, instead of buying a wetsuit, I recommend renting one from Cannery Row Aquatics or one of the many other dive shops near San Carlos beach for about $15.

If you are ready to buy a wetsuit, I recommend ordering one custom in 8mm thickness.

Why custom?

Custom fits better, so it is warmer. If your body is a different shape to the standard used by off-the-rack wetsuit makers, you will be a lot warmer and more comfortable in one that is custom made.

What thickness?
I recommend 8mm. People may tell you this is too thick, but it will get less warm over time, so this ensures longevity. Also, I just think there is no such thing as being "too warm" in our water. If you are really too warm, unfasten the top from the bottom, or take off your hood, and you will cool off nicely :) If you know beyond a doubt that you are a very warm person in the water (perhaps because you have built up brown fat by swimming in the Bay), 7mm or 6mm is ok.

What to avoid?
Avoid getting a wetsuit less than 7mm thick, or that is old and stretched out, or that doesn't fit you well.
  • Warm
    The most important feature of a wetsuit in Northern California is that it is warm enough. Once you start to shiver, it will be much harder to hold your breath. Your wetsuit should be at least 7mm thick, and have a hood. Surf wetsuits are not warm enough. Avoid buying a second-hand wetsuit that has been stretched out, as it will have lost most of its warmth.
  • Double clasp
    If you are getting a two-piece wetsuit (rather than a 1-piece, zip-up, scuba style wetsuit), I recommend getting a double clasp rather than single clasp to fasten your top. A single clasp is too hard to fasten and unfasten with cold fingers.
  • Not "Farmer John" style
    Even though you might think a "Farmer John" style bottom is warmer, it does not end up making much difference if your wetsuit is thick enough. The disadvantage of it is that you have to take off your top to be able to pee.
Our picks
Top pick: Polo Sub
If you are ready to buy a wetsuit, I recommend ordering one custom from Polo Sub in Italy. I have ordered several of these over the years, and they have lasted me years of near-weekly freediving on our rocky shores, as well as costing less than most off-the-rack wetsuits.

The most basic type, "Smoothskin Open Cell" in black, is currently $268 (at time of writing, with EURUSD at 1.00), which is incredibly affordable. For comparison, a domestic Mako wetsuit, which is not custom made, costs $337. You can increase the price by getting "Forza Tre" or "Combined", which are both stronger than Smoothskin, or by adding a cool camouflage design.
$268 from Polo Sub
Budget Pick: Cressi
Nootica currently has a great deal on men's 7mm freediving wetsuits from Cressi. At $200 including shipping, it is the cheapest high-quality two-piece open-cell 7mm wetsuit you will find anywhere. I doubt this deal will last long.

The only caveat to this wetsuit is that the neoprene is not Yamamoto, so it will be stiffer than higher priced suits.
$200 from Nootica
Other brands that do custom
BestDive, Elios, Marea, Molchanovs. BestDive and Elios offer value pretty close to PoloSub's while Molchanovs are significantly more expensive.
Brands with stock sizes for women
Brands with stock sizes for women include BestDive, PoloSub, Mako, Epsealon, Marea, Mares, Beuchat, Waihana, Yazbeck, Omer. 
Best budget pick: Fins and Foam wetsuit
The Fins and Foam buoy comes in high-visibility red or yellow, with room to add a dive flag to be extra visible to boats. It has a mesh bottom, strong handles and numerous D-rings onto which to attach mooring lines and carabiners. It has a quick-deflate valve and can be inflated by mouth.

In addition to this I have added the following to make it into a complete setup for freediving and spearfishing in Northern California:

  • 100 feet of high-visibility, diamond-braided polypropylene rope (for line diving or anchoring)
  • Octopus-style aluminum pulley (for easily lifting bottom weights or anchors)
  • Lanyard (for clipping onto the rope during deep dives)
  • Stopper (to prevent the lanyard catching on the net during deep dives)
  • 20 feet of line with carabiners (for mooring to kelp or other buoys)
  • Jumbo carabiner
  • Net (for holding a bottom rock or keeping ropes neat)
  • Whistle (for safety)