Finding the perfect wetsuit!
Is a new wetsuit on your holiday wish- or shopping-list?
Between end-of-season sales and Black Friday/Cyber Monday promotions, now is the time to take the plunge on one. But with so many options at so many prices, not to mention so many different wetsuits for different water activities, choosing the right one can be overwhelming. Here, we break down your keys to success:
DIFFERENT TYPES OF WETSUITS
The Water World Swim coaches frequently see brand new swimmers showing up for their first open water practice in a wetsuit designed for scuba diving or surfing. These wetsuits are designed to hold water in and get extremely heavy when wet, weighing you down and therefore making your job of swimming that much more labor intensive (read: HARD!)
Diving or surfing wetsuits can also be very stiff and we have seen people injure their shoulders from overexertion! When choosing a wetsuit for open water swimming, look for one that uses the keyword “triathlon” to make sure you’re trying on and purchasing the right kind.
First, be sure you are putting on your wetsuit correctly. You should bring your regular swimsuit to wear underneath, and then pull the wetsuit all the way on so there is no gap between the torso and legs and chest and arms. Hiking it up into the moveable joints in the crotch and shoulder areas ensures that the wetsuit won't be pulling down at your neck. Your ankles and wrists will likely be exposed. A wetsuit should be tight when you try it on. If it rolls, it’s too big!
You should struggle a bit; maybe even break a sweat in the changing room! Ladies, think Spanx. Men, ask a female friend if you’ve never tried compression undergarments on yourself. But you should be able to move too. Many non-wetsuit swimmers cite range of motion as one of the reasons they don’t wear one. It is possible to find a suit that provides enough flexibility, buoyancy and warmth, but you might need to try on a few first.
Water World Swim recommends renting a wetsuit from Sports Basement and trying out a few different models before committing to buying one so you can be sure you find the right one for your stroke and style. (Bonus: Sports Basement will apply the cost of your rental up to $60 towards the cost of a new wetsuit if purchased within 30 days of starting the rental! See pricing chart online here.)
TO SLEEVE, OR NOT TO SLEEVE?
As a compromise on flexibility in the shoulder area, many wetsuit swimmers will pick a sleeveless model. Again, this is a personal preference. You may need to keep your arms warm in the chilly water to avoid cramping or arthritis. See what feels right in practice. If chafing is an issue, invest in Body Glide or Aquaphor. Apply this before putting on the wetsuit to under your arms, at the ankles and wrists, and at the back of the knees and neck.
BUOYANCY VS. FLEXIBILITY
For the ultimate opinion on this, we went to the source. Orca, who claims to offer the widest range of triathlon wetsuits, shared this advice with us:
EXPERIENCED SWIMMERS SEEKING SPEED
Swimmers with good body position and technique and are looking to be faster should choose a suit with maximum flexibility to let them get the most out of each stroke. Orca makes two suits for such a case: the Orca Alpha or Equip.
JUST GETTING STARTED
Swimmers who are just starting out and need extra help keeping hips elevated and avoid extra drag from the legs dropping should choose a suit designed to improve buoyancy. This is an important differentiator in men’s vs women’s suits, as each is designed to provide additional support in different areas based on the natural physiological build of each sex. Orca recommends the 3.8 or S6 for maximum support for these swimmers.
THE GOLDILOCKS ZONE
Those swimmers who fall in the middle that have some confidence in the open water and would like both to be faster and a little help in buoyancy should look for a combo suit like the Sonar as an entry level all-around suit, or the Predator for those looking to invest in a catch-all wetsuit.
PRICE AND ABILITY
Wetsuits come in a range of prices, determined by quality, design, performance need, and more. A more expensive suit will not make you a better/faster swimmer if it is not solving your biggest in-water issues, just like a cheapest available suit may not provide adequate benefits or hold up to wear and tear over the course of a season. To pick the suit at a price point right for you, consider the following:
If you are just getting started and only training for one event--i.e. an alcatraz crossing--and do not plan to continue with the sport, obviously it makes more sense to keep the investment in the sport to a minimum.
CASUAL-BUT-REGULAR & ADVANCED ATHLETES
Those that plans to keep going regardless of speed (and trust us, once you do your first open water swim, you will be hooked and keep coming back for more!) then invest in a suit that can keep up with your training and development as a swimmer. Your body will thank you… until you ditch the wetsuit. (See our other advice post for tips on how to do that!)
Finally, take care of your investment. Be sure you rinse it out and hang it to dry after every single use.
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