Frequently Asked Questions
No, a wetsuit is not always necessary for open water swimming. Wetsuits provide warmth and flotation. Some competitive open water swimming events don’t allow the use of wetsuits and the rule in triathlon is that if the water temperature if over 22 degrees Celsius then wetsuits are not permitted. However, if you are unaccustomed to or don’t enjoy cold water; or if you are a novice swimmer who would benefit from the extra flotation; then a wetsuit is advised. If you wish to be competitive in a triathlon swim where your competition are wearing wetsuits, then you need to wear one. Increased flotation amounts to a better body position and faster swimming. Without a wetsuit you’ll be at a disadvantage
Your wetsuit should fit comfortably enough to enable you to swim unimpeded. A wetsuit that is too tight will quickly result in shoulder fatigue. A wetsuit that is to loose will take in too much water. It must be pretty snug when you put it on, however, not uncomfortably so. If it chokes you or you can’t easily raise your arms then it is too small. Remember too that once you enter the water the wetsuit will loosen a bit. Scoop a little bit of water in through the neck area and make you final adjustments. Work the suit up snugly into the crotch area and push the sleeves up a little further to release pressure on the shoulder area.
A wetsuit will affect how fast you swim. The increased buoyancy provided by the 5mm chest and torso panel and the 3mm lower-leg panel of the wetsuit creates a much improved body position for a swimmer. Less drag is created, allowing the swimmer to move forward more effortlessly and ultimately faster.
For general open water swimming there is no maximum thickness specified. A 5mm thick chest and torso panel is widely regarded as the norm. It provides excellent buoyancy and is sufficiently warm in colder water. The thickness limit for any wetsuit used in a triathlon is 5mm. Only the main floatation panel of the wetsuit (chest and torso) is generally 5mm. The other panels, e.g. arms, back of the legs, etc, vary in thicknesses ranging from 1.5mm to 3mm. These areas are less crucial to body flotation and offer more flexibility.