A wetsuit is a big investment and can make or break your race. Here’s how to find the right one for you.
Starting out in triathlon is expensive, and your first wetsuit forms a sizeable chunk of your initial investment. There are so many suits to choose from, with a wide range of sizes and prices. Add to that the possibility of hiring one, or just using any old surfing wetsuit, and you end up with some tricky decisions to make. Get it wrong and you’ll end up overspending and underperforming. This quick guide should help you choose the right rubber for your race.
Hire or Buy?
Entry-level suits cost around £150 and will last you about three years: not a bad investment if you’ll be using it regularly. There are lots of open-water swimming lakes across the country, so you can potentially get good use from a wetsuit even if you’re not doing any races. On the other hand, hiring a wetsuit will cost you about £50, so it’s only worthwhile if you never ever plan on doing another triathlon. The only performance drawback of a hired suit is that you won’t have much time to get used to it before you race.
How much to spend?
From a performance point of view, the amount you spend should depend on what type of swimmer you are. Good swimmers stand to benefit more from a top-of-the-range wetsuit, as they usually have the most flexibility. If you’re a beginner or a relatively slow swimmer you can get away with a suit from lower down the range because they tend to offer more buoyancy, particularly in the legs. Ideally you’re looking for both buoyancy and flexibility
in the same suit, but the reality is that thin neoprene is stretchy but not very floaty
and vice versa. About 80 per cent of the swimmers I work with are better suited to
a thicker, more buoyant wetsuit.
Each wetsuit manufacturer has an online sizing chart that takes into account your weight and height. There are so many sizes available that it shouldn’t be a problem finding the perfect one for you. All triathlon wetsuits are made in one of three factories and the materials are produced by just two companies: Neil Pryde and Yamamoto. All brands use similar templates, so the sizing is usually very similar even if they have different labels. But always try before you buy, and bear in mind that you might be slimmer on race day than you are now. If this seems likely you may need to buy a size smaller.
Will any old wetsuit do?
The materials and cut of a surfing or sailing wetsuit are very different to those of a swimming one. Surfing wetsuits absorb water, are inflexible and aren’t buoyant in the right places. The material they’re made from can also be rough on your skin and cause chafing. If you have no alternative, a surfing wetsuit will at least keep you warm.
Put it on properly
There’s an art to putting on a wetsuit; get it wrong you could damage the suit or just end up swimming badly. Common mistakes include putting it on back to front (the zip should be at the back), getting your feet stuck, piercing it with your fingernails and leaving too much slack in the suit. Make sure you read the instructions before you rush into wrestling yours on.
This article was originally published in Triathlon Plus magazine. Save time and money by having every issue delivered to your door or digital device by subscribing to the print edition or buying digitally through Zinio or Apple Newsstand.
You’ll find loads more triathlon training advice in triradar.com’s Training Zone section.