I like to think I’ve aged well with diving. There have been some grueling periods where I know I wreaked havoc on myself physically and physiologically during arduous working dives, but in hindsight, I was always smart enough to take the little things into consideration that I had a hunch would help me prolong my ability to stay in the game.
That said, I have some clear issues that have resulted from diving, despite playing it safe, and much of this comes from prolonged exposure to cold. The first problem is my hands. In a pseudo-arthritic/carpel-tunnel-esque way, I have ongoing problems with strength in my hands and wrists. I’ve had numerous long winter days out there on the water, working hard with my hands, which despite best efforts with changing into dry gloves were always wet, frost bitten, and swollen from becoming numbing cold. It’s an occupational hazard that can’t be avoided. The second is that I’ve actually developed an allergy to cold over the years called cold urticaria.
I remember distinctly when I first experienced the disease’s symptoms of inflammation, welts, and intense itchiness on all exposed skin. I was wrapping pilings under a pier in Quonset Rhode Island on a job that spanned a couple of months one winter, and despite wearing hotwater suits for even the work we did as swimmers (not diving per se), the constant in and out of the ocean water, and immersion in the heated seawater within the suit, followed by dehydration through evaporation, and having to get dressed into and out of a wet suit in freezing temperatures did me in. The itch was so incredible that I didn’t even want to shower when I got home from work. Sure enough, every winter since, when my bare skin is exposed to temps below 30 degrees or so, I have a reaction.
So, fast forward to today – I still love diving, but honestly it does take me a little bit more effort to muscle through the cold unless I have to. However, here in New England, some of our best diving is in the winter months, so I’ve made a few changes to my exposure protection to buffer the blow and preserve the enjoyment of a winter foray.
First is that I started diving compressed neoprene drysuits. When hard at work, I don’t worry about trickles through the wrist seals or even an accidental hole – even when damp, you are warm.
Second, I made the investment into good undergarments. Several years ago, I picked up a set from Fourth Element for use while diving the Exosuit ADS since they are thin (sparing already limited room in the suit) but warm. I stuck with these with my drysuit diving and have never looked back to anything else.
Lastly was the very recent addition of the new Fourth Element X-Core vest as an added layer., provided courtesy Deep Stop Scuba. Making a difference is an understatement. Just today I was out there on a shakedown dive with water temps in the mid-30’s F for about an hour and didn’t sweat it one bit.
On top of the layer of performance is that the X-core undergarments are eco-friendly, being made partially from recycled plastics cleaned up from the ocean. That’s the cycle of life at its best.
So, short story – don’t sweat the cold…be smart about it, make sound equipment choices, and stay on top of the tech that keeps evolving and will bring us ever closer to a ‘new life in the sea’.