TIME TO (WET)SUIT UP
As the temperature drops, it might be time for you to check out some wetsuits so you can keep in the swim of things. Here 2XU open water swimmer Sam Sheppard gives his tips on what you should know about choosing, fitting and caring for your wetsuit.
CHOOSING YOUR WETSUIT
When choosing a wetsuit the most important thing is the fit, and how it feels when you swim (not how it feels in the shop!). If you’ve had a wetsuit that you’ve been happy with, then you’ll probably just want a new wetsuit that is exactly the same as your old one, but be careful – wetsuits can handle a bit of fluctuation in body weight, but any significant change in weight or a body shape can completely change how your old favourite performs.
You can buy the most expensive and flashiest wetsuit going around, but if it doesn’t fit properly there’s no point buying it. Every style and brand of wetsuit is slightly different because of differences in the thickness of the rubber around the shoulders or chest (among other things) so even if you’re not changing brands with your new wetsuit, it’s still important to try it on because it may feel different.
One very good way to try a new wetsuit is to hire it for a race (or at least swim in open water with it for half an hour). 2XU will often have a tent set up at most Victorian ocean swims so you can hire the wetsuit for the race, then if you like it, you can buy a new one at a discounted price. Most wetsuits cost upwards of $500 and should last you for years, so this is a great idea to help ensure you get the perfect wetsuit.
GET THE RIGHT FIT
All the 2XU wetsuit range can accommodate most shapes and sizes. The main point when choosing a wetsuit is to go for one that you feel comfortable moving about in – it should feel like a second skin both in and out of the water. There are a few quick mobility tests you can do to check the fit of your suit. First, make sure the wetsuit isn’t too tight on the chest and neck – and it definitely shouldn’t restrict your breathing in any way. Next, check that you have very good and easy movement around the shoulders. At the same time, the suit should not be loose on the shoulders, either.
LONG SLEEVES VS SLEEVELESS
Most people who haven’t worn a swimming wetsuit before will end up choosing a long sleeve suit because generally they let in less water, and most of all, they keep you warmer. However, if you are coming from a pool swimming background like I did, you might want to choose a 2XU sleeveless wetsuit. I always feel that a sleeveless wetsuit gives me greater flexibility through the shoulders, so this is what I wear when racing. When I do wear a wetsuit with sleeves (for very cold water), I pull the sleeves right up to about 5cm below the elbows. This means that more of the suit is bunched up around the shoulders so I have more movement there. Also, having the sleeves pulled up higher makes the ends tighter on the arms so that water is less likely to get into the suit. However, all this comes down to personal preference. I also see a lot of triathletes cut off part of the legs of their wetsuit so that they can run out of the water and get them off easier than if the suit went all the way to the ankles. The important point is to stop and adjust where the suit sits on your shoulders and pull the suit further up your arms or legs as you need.
IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THE LOOKS
There’s a lot more than meets the eye when it comes to sorting out a very good wetsuit from an ordinary one.
A good wetsuit will have better quality rubber (2XU uses the world-renowned Yamamoto neoprene) compared to a “cheap and nasty” one, allowing more flexibility and movement through the shoulders. Good rubber is also more resistant to punctures from fingernails, etc., although you should still be careful putting it on and taking it off. In a good wetsuit, the rubber won’t come away at the seams, whereas cheaper wetsuits with inferior rubber and seams might end up with leakages that require expensive repairs.
Terms such as ‘buoyancy panels’, ‘floating zip panels’ and ‘rollbars’ in wetsuit product descriptions can sound confusing. Put simply, all these features help keep your body more balanced and higher in the water. When you’re higher in the water, that means more of your body is pushing through air instead of water, and air has a lot less resistance. The end result is that you use less energy keeping your body afloat and balanced in the water, and you can go faster.
WETSUIT WEAR AND CARE
Wetsuits will wear out over time to some degree, but they will wear out much faster if they are not looked after as recommended.
- Be careful not to put holes in your wetsuit while taking it off and putting it on - be wary of long or sharp nails and any jewellery or watches.
- Don't use petroleum-based lubricants (e.g. Vaseline, baby oil) where the wetsuit rubs as they can break down the rubber. Also avoid exposing the wetsuit to other petroleum-based oils found in hair shampoo and conditioner, and cosmetics. Try products such as Body Glide, lanolin or Papaw Cream, applying them especially around the armpit region, high on the ribs and around the ankles. Even better, get plenty of practice removing a wet wetsuit in training.
- After your wetsuit has been in salt water or chlorine, rinse it inside-out in fresh, cold water as soon as possible. Let the suit dry inside-out in the shade (avoid direct sunlight). Don't hang the wetsuit because it can stretch under its own weight. Try spreading the suit over a piece of outdoor furniture instead.
- Avoid hanging your wetsuit when storing it. It's best to lay it flat in a cool, dry area (e.g. under a bed) or fold it.