You've heard the stories. Maybe your buddies have even seen it in real life. Maybe you've seen it in the movies, you rascal you. But is it true? Do perfectly normal people climb into rubber suits with strangers and jump into an otherwise placid body of water? Yes. Well, except for the normal people part. It is a triathlon wetsuit and you will want one.
Triathlon wetsuits were designed for swimming. They were designed for speed and buoyancy. Yeah, yeah, they were designed for warmth, too. But who cares? This is legalized cheating we're talking about. Wetsuits give all that and, after you get used to feeling like you're being strangled, can give you a sense of comfort in the water that you might otherwise not have.
Wetsuits are made of neoprene rubber, which is cellular or contains air bubbles. This makes the material float. It is so floaty (is that a word?), in fact, that it will sit right on the water's surface even with you in it. No, we didn't mean to imply, er, oh never you mind. The inside is covered with a nylon or polyester jersey material. The outside is coated with a Super Composite Skin (SCS), making it hydrodynamic (i.e. fast in the agua). Most wetsuits have tapered legs for easier exit. Some will have small channels on the forearm for added "water purchase" with each stroke. Features vary by wetsuit and price.
You: Speaking of price, why the heck are these things so expensive? I mean, I can go down to the local wholesale membership club and get a wetsuit for $75. You've got me spending $200 or $300 or more.
Us: Okay, settle down. We know this stuff can add up. There's no reason to get all worked up. The big difference between a wetsuit you buy at a warehouse club or big box store and the one you'll get from us is that ours are designed specifically for swimming. The less expensive models you've been eyeballing are designed to be used for activities above the surface of the water. Sure, they'll keep you warm if that Back Scratcher doesn't work out and sends you into the deep. But try swimming at length in them and feel the drag. It's really like dragging an anchor when compared to swimming in a triathlon wetsuit.
You, again (hey, we're interactive): What's the big deal with buoyancy?
Us: Well, buoyancy floats you on the surface, which means less drag in the water. Less drag in the water means greater speed. Ain't that what we're looking for in the first place? We'll answer that for you: YES! While it varies from swimmer to swimmer, we're talking about saving as much as 10 seconds per 100 meters just by wearing a full sleeve wetsuit. Oh, now we've done it. We've opened the door to the next section.
Sleeveless Vs. Full Wetsuits
Budding triathletes wonder about this all the time. Should I get a sleeveless wetsuit or full? What about those with the short legs? The bottom line is this: More rubber equals more speed. You'll be faster in a full sleeve wetsuit than a sleeveless. How much faster? Generally a few seconds per 100 meters. But you'll still be plenty faster than the guy going al fresco. Not only will you have less rubber in a sleeveless suit, you simply cannot get a tight seal along the side of the torso where the sleeve would go. This allows more water to get in and, thus, creates more drag. That said, a lot of accomplished swimmers like sleeveless suits because they maintain a "feel" for the water. The choice really is yours to make.
Some other factors to consider include:
- Longjohn wetsuits are easier to get into and exit from.
- Longjohn wetsuits are better for warmer water.
- Though, many times if it is too warm for a full wetsuit, it's too warm for a sleeveless.
Remember, sizing and fitting are the most important elements to consider when buying a wetsuit. Find a reputable retailer who will help you with both.
Now that we've got you sold on a wetsuit, you're probably wondering when you can actually use these things in a race. The official rule from USA Triathlon allows participants to wear wetsuits if the water temperature is 78 degrees or lower. From 78-84 degrees, wetsuits are allowed, but age group participants wearing one are not be eligible for prizes. Water that is above 84 degrees is way too hot for a wetsuit and they are not allowed. You'd be a piece of macaroni, buddy-boy.
On the other side of the scale, wetsuits can keep you warm in pretty chilly water. How chilly? Some of our folks have swum early season in San Francisco Bay when the water temps hover in the early 50s. The bigger challenge in that is keeping your face warm. Neoprene caps can help with your head, but your face is just kind of stuck out there. Try sticking with the pool. Ah, the pool. Yes, you can use your wetsuit in a chlorine treated pool. Just rinse it out really well after each use to help prolong the life of the rubber. Okay, you get one more here: The lifespan of a wetsuit can be 5-10 years, generally speaking.