By Paul Johnson, guest blogger
Paul Johnson is the founder of www.triathlonwetsuitstore.com, a source for tips and product advice on triathlon wetsuits and gear.
Although the HITS races take place in a wide variety of great venues, they tend to have one thing in common: water temps are generally less than 70 degrees. That means that wetsuits are often legal in the races, as is usually the case anytime the water temp is less than 78 degrees (per USAT guidelines). As a general rule, water temps of under about 65 degrees suggest a wetsuit is a good idea if not a necessity, and between 65 and 70 they can provide valuable comfort in the water. When water temps increase to the 70′s, the wetsuit may be optional from a warmth standpoint but can still help with other facets of the race.
With many of our races sporting water temps in the 60s or, in the case of our California events, the 50s, wetsuits are something that many racers ask about. We are happy to provide a primer on wetsuits, what the benefits are, and how to find one.
The benefits of using a triathlon wetsuit are really threefold. First, and most obviously, a wetsuit keeps you warm during the swim. After initially entering the water, a thin film of water is trapped inside the wetsuit and your body heat warms it, which in turn warms your skin. This is very important since as water temps dip, a chilled body can have other effects such as shallow breathing or rigid muscles. The name of the game in the swim is to relax, and if you are too cold it is unlikely you will ever fully relax in the water. A full-length wetsuit will obviously provide more warmth, but even a sleeveless of “john” wetsuit will make a major difference in keeping your core warm.
The second major benefit of a wetsuit is buoyancy. Wetsuits are designed to make you more balanced and buoyant in the water, meaning you require less effort to float and don’t have to spend as much energy on kicking and balancing. Higher-end wetsuits take this technology to another level, varying the materials used throughout the wetsuit so you basically have a built-in buoy to keep your body in an optimal position. For many experienced racers, the buoyancy and balance is more important than the warmth provided by the suit. Even good entry-level wetsuits will provide a noticeable improvement in your balance and flotation, allowing you to focus on your swim stroke. This can be particularly handy if you are swimming in rough water or in a notoriously crowded swim.
The final benefit of a wetsuit is that you will glide better. The skin of the wetsuit creates a smooth, uniform surface against the water, covering up any your tri shorts and top, body hair, or other things that could create drag while you are swimming. The result is an ability to glide through the water that, when combined with the buoyancy factor, can create a great feeling in the water and give you confidence in addition to speed. Testing by wetsuit manufacturers has shown a modest increase in overall speed by those using wetsuits.
While there are many benefits of using a wetsuit, the negative may be obvious to anyone who has priced them out: cost. Wetsuits are not inexpensive, and the best ones can cost as much as $700. For most beginners and intermediates, however, a good entry-level wetsuit will do. Most major wetsuit manufacturers have an entry-level option on the market for $200 or so, and prior-year closeouts are common at deep discounts. Generally, wetsuits priced in the $175 to $300 range, made by major triathlon gear companies, will be great for most triathletes. Other options for even less are renting or borrowing, but be sure you don’t settle for a suit that doesn’t fit properly — it could actually become a liability in the water. Finally, beware of new wetsuits selling for impossibly low prices. They are often not made by triathlon gear manufacturers, and were not designed to have the range-of-motion needed for a good swim stroke.
By finding the right wetsuit and getting comfortable in it, you will make your next HITS race swim a complete success. For your reference, typical water temperatures for HITS races are listed below.
California: Water Temp: Wetsuit?
Palm Springs 54-59° Recommended
Napa Valley 54-59° Recommended
Naples 64-69° Optional
Ocala, FL 60-65° Useful
Corpus Christi, TX 61-66° Useful
Marble Falls, TX 60-65° Useful
Hunter Mountain 56-61° Recommended
Cooperstown 65-70° Optional
Fort Collins, CO 65-70° Optional
Lake Havasu City 63-68° Useful