by Paul Johnson, completetri.com
The swim portions for many of our triathlons take place in Pacific Ocean harbors. Ocean water can always be cold, so many of our racers consider using wetsuits. Water temps of under 70 degrees often justify a wetsuit, and temps between 70-78 are definitely wetsuit optional. Using a wetsuit might be a new experience for some, so here is some background as you prepare for the race.
Whether you borrow, buy, or rent a wetsuit, make sure you are comfortable in it. In the weeks leading up to a race, try your wetsuit on at home – remember, “nothing new on race day.” It will be tight, but this is completely normal. Wetsuits are supposed to be tight. When you go for a practice swim prior to race day, you may get the illusion of moving more slowly in the water, but that's false as there'll be an improvement to the swim split in your first race using a wetsuit. When you practice in a pool, there's no need to don your wetsuit as that will only wear it out faster. In addition to keeping you warmer, a wetsuit will also assist your buoyancy. This flotation assistance commonly helps first timers feel more secure in the water, and can be worth it if you are nervous about the swim.
Some triathletes use a sleeveless wetsuit, others use a full-sleeved version. It is really a matter of personal preference. The full-sleeve wetsuit will be warmer and a bit more buoyant, while some triathletes prefer a sleeves version for the improved range-of-motion a bit more freedom in the shoulders and arms. Either way, be sure you get a quality wetsuit that is made for triathlons.
The best wetsuits are made by the same makers as other tri gear, like Renegade’s sponsor Xterra. The wetsuits made for recreational and boating use typically do not have the range-of-motion needed for swimming hard in open water. You will see the manufacturer have different neoprene thicknesses on the wetsuit specs – 2mm, 4mm, 5mm, etc. Typically, the thicker the wetsuit, the warmer it will be… but you also want lots of “paneling” so you can move around well. The core of the wetsuit might be 5mm, but the shoulders should be thinner so you can move, such as 2mm. This “paneling” is what is missing on recreational wetsuits.
One thing you will notice when you practice with a wetsuit is that it can sometimes be a challenge just to put on! Getting a wetsuit on is not always a simple task. Go slowly as you slip into the suit -- the new formfitting and super-slim models can tear if you stab the material with your finger or toenail. Pull the wetsuit on with your finger pads and don't use your fingertips and nails.
Always put a wetsuit on while you are dry, as putting a wetsuit on wet skin is more difficult. If you need a couple tips for getting your legs through the stubborn leg holes, we have known people to keep their socks on for better sliding ability, or to actually put plastic bread bags over their feet while they push their legs through! Just remember, go slow, be gentile, and try not to rip the neoprene.
For more information on wetsuits, wetsuit reviews, and using a wetsuit, check out the content at Complete Tri.