Recently, I was offered the opportunity to visit a diving paradise set right in the Coral Triangle. Wakatobi is an extraordinary dive resort off the southeast corner of Sulawesi–and the water there was 80ºF / 27ºC… Every. Single. Day.
With two-thirds of my dives logged in the chilly waters of Southern California — 68.2ºF / 20.1ºC at the surface today according to NOAA — my relationship with neoprene is…complicated. Don’t get me wrong, I’m profoundly grateful for the thermal protection that makes it possible for me to keep my gills wet. It’s just that I’ve rarely met a local diver who relished The Donning, and I’m no exception. One of the shiniest lures of a trip to a tropical dive destination is the chance to be 7mm closer to the ocean. Well, maybe 6.5mm.
As much as I’d love to dive in only a swimsuit, it’s just not practical. In water any colder than body temp, you always need some kind of thermal protection, and depending on where you’re diving there might be fire coral or hydroids or even the odd jellyfish. I find that not being stung, bitten, or itchy greatly enhances my dive experience. Besides, the more acreage covered by neoprene, the less sunscreen I’d be leaching into the water column above the fragile coral reefs. Double bonus. So I put on my grown-up booties and resolved to take along a warm-water suit.
Enter the Mares Coral She Dives, a 0.5mm suit that was designed for tropical water but is thin enough to be worn as an under-layer for extra insulation in colder seas. Or to pack up nice and small in my limited luggage. Its flexibility is universal — you’re able to move your limbs so freely that you can use the suit for dynamic surface sports as well.
The Mares “Coral She Dives” Deserves a Tropical Vacation
I did nine dives over the course of four days, taking it off during each surface interval along the way. The material inside is called Metalite, which is meant to reflect your body’s own heat back to you. Considering I didn’t get cold once–not even on the day we dove in the rain–I’m a believer. What surprised me the most, though, was the integrity of the neoprene. With no interior lining, I still can’t figure out how the suit managed to sustain zero fingernail tears. Just before my third dive though, I did notice a small split in the seam over my right collarbone.
The hook-and-loop closure at the neck has a modified design that I haven’t seen before, with shorter hooks that provide a rock-solid grip. The zipper leash is secured to a small tab of the same material at the lower back of the suit, keeping it from floating around freely to entangle you or photobomb your once-in-a-lifetime shots. Unfortunately, that hooked patch on my Coral wetsuit went missing sometime between dives four and nine, but it was lovely while it lasted.
The Coral She Dives is the easiest suit I’ve ever wriggled into or out of, though I admit that most of my experience is with suits that are fourteen times thicker. The neck (ever the Achilles heel of the wetsuit world) is comfortable and makes a solid seal without constricting at the throat.
The stirrups seem to have been designed with layering in mind, presumably to keep the suit in place when you pull another over top of it. They were too long for me and kept slipping off my heels when I put my boots on. Though I understand the stirrups’ function, they ended up being more of a liability than a help to me, and I found myself longing for a fitted ankle hem instead. Or maybe shorter legs on the suit, perhaps even a “Short” and “Tall” variation on the straight sizes.
The Coral She Dives is a good-looking suit. Finished in black nylon, with high contrast gray seams that curve flatteringly along anatomical lines, and darker charcoal cuffs. The rubber knee pads are a stylish black-on-black and there are abstract white swirls appliquéd at the right biceps, left wrist, left hip, and right calf. The men’s version lacks the swirls but features a stripe that wraps around the upper arm in the same charcoal as the cuffs.
With a few very minor exceptions, the Coral gave me exactly what I needed from it. It was light and comfortable, fitting into my luggage easily and drying quickly between dives. This is a great choice for warm water diving, and since it does double-duty as an under layer, I can still use it when I’m diving the “temperate” waters at home. Less costly than some other thermal garments, and with negligible buoyancy characteristics, it’s well worth the price.
I was already sold on the suit after the very first dive. As I was donning it for the second, I noticed that the woman opposite me on the boat was wearing a Mares 3mm wetsuit and we laughed about matching. With eyes alight with mirth, she cursed its durability for denying her an excuse to get a new suit–it had seen ten years’ worth of tropical vacation diving and was only just beginning to show signs of needing to be replaced. If that’s a testament to Mares quality, what better endorsement for could there be?
- 0.5 mm neoprene for warm water
- Easy donning and doffing
- Can also be worn as an undersuit
- Rubber knee pads
- Metalite fabric inside with heat retaining effect
- Elliptical stretch stitch technology at ankles and wrists
- Available for women in sizes 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16
- MSRP: $89.95USD / $69.79GBP / $82.27 EUR