Austin Tri-Cyclist Blog

Thursday, May 15, 2014

What's With Wetsuits?

by Missy Ruthven

The start of the 2014 triathlon season is well under way now. This is the time of year to consider using a wetsuit for some of the early season races here in Central Texas. Typically the wetsuit racing season for us is March to May, with another possible cool stretch in October and early September. Many wonder whether it is worth the investment for such few races; however, some of the most popular events in Texas are held during these periods, including Ironman 70.3 Texas, CapTex, and TriRock Austin.

At Austin Tri-Cyclist we currently carry Rocket Science Sports, DeSoto, Zoot, 2XU, and TYR, and we rent and sell many models. Below are some things to think about when deciding which way to go.

"How do rentals work?"
We rent triathlon wetsuits for $30 for a weekend, which includes a Wednesday pickup to allow a swim or two in the wetsuit prior to the event. If the wetsuit is needed for two weekends, we charge $50. (Talk to me if you need a different schedule than what is mentioned here.) We have both full sleeve and sleeveless available for rent. We rent thermal swim skins as well, typically for $20, that offer warmth but not buoyancy.

"What kind of wetsuit do I need?"
Swim section upstairs at ATC Barton Springs 
Full-sleeve and sleeveless triathlon wetsuits, thermal swim skins, and speed suits are available for purchase at ATC. Most of what we have is the triathlon wetsuit. These are designed for warmth, yes...but also buoyancy in the water and speed. These are all about the same as far as warmth and buoyancy go across the brands. These wetsuits will be made of slick neoprene that is typically 5 mm thick (for the buoyancy). The full-sleeve suits will have 1 to 2 mm neoprene in the shoulders for flexibility. The sleeveless suits range in price from $195-275. The full-sleeve suits are $250-400 (or more) for most brands.

We also carry what I call "thermal swim skins" by AquaSphere. These are designed to keep a swimmer warm, but they do not offer the buoyancy of triathlon wetsuits. Though also made of slick neoprene, thermal swim skins just aren't as thick (only 1 to 2 mm). This type of wetsuit is still flexible in the shoulders, however, and is much easier to get on! Thermal swim skins are most used by athletes wanting to swim in colder water (or for water sports activities – skiing, etc.) without the hassle and thickness of the triathlon wetsuits. We rent these as well, but since the price is $100-200, most customers purchase them. I have had numerous folks who do not like the tight, constrictive feeling of the triathlon suits use these for their triathlon/open water swim event.

Another type of "wetsuit" is the speed suit or swim skin. These offer very little warmth or buoyancy, just slickness in the water. A swimmer would use this if the water temp is above the legal limit for a wetsuit (78 degrees) but still wants the slickness of a wetsuit. This is worn over a tri suit, just like a wetsuit. This type of wetsuit is available for purchase but not rental.

"Should I buy a wetsuit?" 
Will you have the opportunity to train and race in the wetsuit?  Having a wetsuit extends the open water swimming season. We have several good open water venues here, including Barton Springs, Quarry Lake, Lake Pflugerville, and Lake Travis if we get some rain (check out our 2013 post on five open water swim spots in Austin). An athlete could take advantage of these venues at least six months of the year if he or she has a wetsuit. (Not counting December-February or July-September).

Usually, if you are going to be renting the wetsuit more than twice a year, it makes sense to consider a purchase. And certainly if you want some training time in the wetsuit (especially advised for full-sleeve suits), a purchase would be best.

"How do I decide between full sleeve or sleeveless?"
A full-sleeve suit is in most cases the faster suit. This is mostly due to the material being very slick in the water (slicker than bare skin).

Water temperature is an important consideration. Wetsuits are allowed in races when the water temp is 78 degrees or below. Most people are warm enough in a sleeveless suit in water temps mid 60s and above. For low 60s and certainly 50s, a full-sleeve suit would be recommended. Some people may get overheated in a full-sleeve suit at a 77 water temp.

Full sleeve can be a little tiring on the arms. A good fitting full-sleeve suit shouldn't feel restrictive, but it is like stretching a rubber band with every stroke. This should not be an issue if the athlete is proficient in swimming the distance without a wetsuit. The longer the swim leg of the upcoming race, the more the need to practice in the wetsuit.

About the author: 
Missy Ruthven owns Austin Tri-Cyclist with her husband, Don. An accomplished triathlete and former professional duathlete, she has 25 years of experience in the sport. Her expertise in swim equipment (particularly wetsuits!) makes her a valuable resource for all levels of swimmers, from beginners to pros.  

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