Wetsuit 101

There’s a lot involved when it comes to wetsuits, but first things first: Do not wear your wetsuit for the first time on the day of your race. I can’t stress that enough.

There are two reasons for owning a wetsuit. First, in colder swims it will provide you with warmth. Second, you will swim faster since you are sitting higher in the water because it increases your buoyancy.

When it comes to selecting a wetsuit, you need to be able to try them on. Because our bodies come in all shapes in sizes, you shouldn’t rely just on the sizing chart. After you’ve tried them on in a store you’ll have a better idea of your exact size, feel free to shop online to get a good deal because wetsuit companies seem to have sales about every month. Something you should not forget is if you put on weight or lose it, your wetsuit may not fit anymore.

Whether you want to get sleeves or go sleeveless is completely up to you. Sleeves will give you a little more buoyancy, but in a race you’ll have to take your GPS off your wrist before they can strip you. With sleeveless you don’t have that issue. If you’re swimming in water that’s above 70 degrees Fahrenheit regularly you’d probably be comfortable without sleeves. Also, sleeved wetsuits can make your range of motion feel restricted.

Before we get to putting on the wetsuit, we need to talk about rubbing and chafing. You’ll need Body Glide because it’s a water-proof lubricant. If you’re going to ride a bike after swimming, make sure you put it on beforehand. You also need to put Body Glide on the back of your neck where the top of the zipper ends. The zipper and Velcro area will rub you raw in a longer swim. You may need to use Body Glide on other areas like your under arms if you’ve experience chafing there in the past.

Wetsuits are easier to put on if you use plastic grocery bags on your feet because it eliminates the friction causd by your skin. Unzip your wetsuit and fold it down (kind of like a banana peel) and stick your first leg in. It’s not going to be that simple, you need to roll down the leg, regrip at the sides of it and pull up. Repeat that until the end of the leg of the wetsuit is above your ankle. You have the first leg of your wetsuit covering up to about your knee, so once you get the other leg to the same height it’s time to start working in tandem to get the wetsuit to your waist. After it’s that high, you’ll have to get your arms in if you have sleeves. It’s the same process with getting the arms on except not in tandem like with the legs. You want the wetsuit to fit tight against your body, so make sure it’s pulled up high to your crotch and nice and tight to the arm pits. You want this wetsuit to be as form-fitting as possible. Remember not to dig your fingernails into the wetsuit. I included a link to this Xterra instructional video, but I feel like it’s a complete lie because I’ve never had a wetsuit go on as easy as it did here.

After you’re done using the wetsuit you’ll want to have a bigger plastic bag on hand to stash it in until you get home. Once you’re home you’ll need to rinse it out thoroughly with tap water. If you swam in salt water you want to do it as quickly as possible. Same goes for if you tried it out in a pool. The chlorine/bromine will eat the seams and stitching so you really should avoid pools. If you don’t have a wetsuit hanger, you can rig one up by adding a lot of padding to a coat hanger. It’ll be inside out, so just let it hang dry in your shower if you can, but not from your shower head!

By the next morning your wetsuit should be dry. Turn it inside out and put it back on the hanger. I leave mine hanging on the back of my bathroom door. This helps keep the neoprene from getting really dry because of the steam from my shower every day.

If you take care of your wetsuit it can last you awhile, but everyone manages to put finger nail tears in them from time to time. There is a special neoprene seal cement you can buy off of Amazon. Get the smallest size available because you won’t need much. The brush they give you doesn’t have a point fine enough to do a good job, so use a toothpick instead. Squeeze some of the adhesive onto a piece of cardboard or something you’ll throw away. Take the toothpick with adhesive on the end and fill the inside of the fingernail tear. Then push the ends together for about a minute or so. For good measure you’ll want to cover the top of the tear. This video should help you if you’re more of a visual person.

I’m not a huge fan of people renting wetsuits at races. Most of the time they’ve never worn a wetsuit before and it violates the unwritten rule of “Nothing new on race day!” It’ll feel very constricting to you; some have even described it as they feel like they’re being strangled. So try to avoid that at all costs unless you’ve worn one before.

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