AFTER MUCH THOUGHT AND PROCRASTINATING, I decided on footwear that wasn’t designed specifically for the pursuit of diving – a boot from the O’Neill line-up destined for the fit, bronzed surfboard brigade.
My choice was the FreakSneak 3mm Hi-Top model. At the time of writing this review I’ve completed more than 60 dives in these boots – that’s more than 80 hours under water – and I’ve started to call everyone dude.

The Design
The FreakSneaks are constructed from 3mm high-stretch fluid foam neoprene with a breathable tongue. They feature a fully laced closure, and all the seams are glued, blind-stitched and covered in a lightweight neoprene tape on the inside to reduce chafing.
The soles are flat in profile and made from moulded rubber with a fine zig-zag tread pattern to provide some grip. Completing the spec are soft rubber toecaps and heel sections with a webbing “pull-on” loop.
A light grey stripe around the sole and boot seam plus O’Neill livery at the ankle adds a bit of understated style to these retro-looking boots, which resemble the ever-popular Converse AllStar style that everyone from kids to kings seems to be wearing these days.

In Use
The first outing for these boots was in the warm waters off Cuba on a week of intensive liveaboard diving. They attracted comments from my fellow-travellers, mostly of the “they look different” variety.
The lace-up design isn’t often seen in the diving community and I had to take a bit of verbal stick to be honest (nothing new there, then). Undaunted, I tied the laces, slipped my feet easily into my fin-pockets and rolled into the water.
I had already tried the boots in the pool during the comparison test and knew that they would be comfortable, but that was for 10-15 minutes of hard finning. I was anxious to see how they performed on full-length dives, in real-world conditions.
Imagine diving in a pair of tight-fitting, flexible, soft socks snugly pushed into a rubber fin foot-pocket with the fin-strap placed exactly at the right position on your heel to avoid any pressure or strain on your Achilles, and you’ll be able to recreate my experience with these O’Neill booties.
After the laces were tied and my wetsuit rolled down over the boot-tops, the FreakSneaks felt as comfortable as a worn-in pair of slippers. They didn’t offer much in the way of thermal protection, but I had chosen them specifically for my warmwater adventures. Anything much cooler than the Caribbean and I’d mostly be in a drysuit, as I’m a bit of a wuss in the teeth-chattering department.
Getting the boots on and off isn’t as easy as a pair with a wide opening and zip closure but it’s no big deal. The fluid foam was stretchy enough to allow me to open the top of the boot with the laces undone and pull them up like a pair of socks. After immersion there was a fair bit of suction around the toes as I tried to remove them, but not enough to cause a problem.
The soles are less solid than on some dive-boots but they were stiff enough to allow for painless ladder-work, even when exiting the water with my full scuba unit and weights.
A few days into our trip, I spotted one of my fellow underwater photographers putting on a pair of cotton socks before pushing his feet into his own traditional style of dive-boots.
When I asked why, he said he had blisters caused by his boot zips rubbing his water-softened skin, and was clearly in some discomfort that evening as he tried to source some waterproof Band-Aids.
My own feet were blister and sore-free, and I was by now convinced that I had made a sound choice with the O’Neills.
After another marathon dive outing, this time to Indonesia, the FreakSneaks look none the worse for wear. If anything they have stretched slightly and the inner soles have started to mould themselves to my feet, making them even more comfortable to use.
One disadvantage, however, is that they are difficult to dry on the inside, as the design doesn’t allow for a decent airflow through them. I had to get used to putting wet boots on first thing in the morning, but the comfort factor made this hiccup pale into insignificance.

Conclusion
I originally included O’Neill FreakSneak boots in the comparison test to add something different, a bit of fashion flair, and in my experience fashion and comfort rarely go hand in hand, but in this case they do.
The soles aren’t as robust as some and I wouldn’t recommend these boots for rough rocky terrain, but they are solid enough for occasional ladder-work, and definitely suit the liveaboard style of diving.
I had started my dive trips taking a bit of stick, but finished them being asked: “Where can I get a pair of those” Says it all, really.

SPECS
PRICES FreakSneak Hi-Top £40
SIZES UK 6-11
CONTACT www.oneillwetsuits.com
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