Wetsuits for Triathlon Swimming – Issue 20

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Open Water Season

As the waters here in Southern California are warming up to a balmy 70 degrees Fahrenheit, I am finally starting to enjoy jumping in the water! Still, I need a wetsuit if I’m going to be out longer than about 30 minutes. Partly because I have low tolerance to cold water (70 degrees is cold to me but warm compared to what the water is in the winter and spring), but partly because I enjoy the extra buoyancy the wetsuit provides me.

Let’s talk about wetsuits for triathlon, why they are needed, and what to expect. Happy Training!


After the bicycle frame and components, purchasing a wetsuit is the largest expense in triathlon.

During the 1980’s, triathlon events began to permit the use of wetsuits in competition. Benefits include increased buoyancy, expansion of potential workout and race venues; increased safety, and general comfort.

USAT sanctioned races allow wetsuits for races in water 78 degrees or less. USMS (Masters Swimming) swim events do not permit the use of wetsuits. Racers who decide on wearing wetsuits do so for reasons other than official placing or awards, and may be used by choice.

Why a Wetsuit?

Warmth- The neoprene or rubber material traps a layer of water close to the skin that is warmed by core body temperature and delays hypothermia in water less than 80 degrees.

Buoyancy- The wetsuit provides safe and fear-reducing buoyancy, but should not be relied upon as a life preserver.

Speed- Reduction of drag, the effects of providing buoyancy to the hips and legs, and the ease of breathing and sighting all contribute to a 10% or greater reduction in time over an Olympic distance swim (3-5 minutes!).

Energy Conservation- This should be your goal on the swim, since you still have some biking and running left to do!

Wetsuits come in 3 primary varieties and can be 1 piece or two:

Full Cut- Coverage from head to toe. Made for 50 degree + water temps. $200+

Sleeveless- i.e. Farmer John, Farmer Jane. Made for 75 degree +. $125-$200 Short Cut- Knee length Farmer John. 75 degree +. $100-150.

Additional Considerations:

1. Open water swimming is often done “double capped” using latex swim caps. This is a great way to keep the warmth in!

2. Fit of the wetsuit should be “second skin” tight. Legs and arms can be “cut” to length with sharp scissors, if necessary. Fit around chest and arms for ease of movement is the single most important fit consideration.

3. The first time you swim in your wetsuit, it can feel like your breathing is restricted. This diminishes with practice as long as the fit is proper.

4. “Neck rash” is the chafing that can occur around the neck due to the movement associated with breathing. “Rash Guards” are shirts that help prevent this rash and can be obtained at Costco and most surf shops. Also, (as I have learned) Vaseline helps prevent rashes.

5. Wetsuits should be rinsed after each use.

6. Use of “body glide” at the lower legs, neck and wrists can help in suit removal.

Largest Triathlon-related vendors:
Quintana Roo

Training Tip #20:
At the start of a triahlon or open water swim, keep your head down for the first 300 yards or so of the race (if it’s a sprint you may need to look up sooner to see the first turn or buoy.) This will help you get into a rhythm and allow your hips to be at the surface, so you can minimize your kick and save your legs!