Follow-up on wetsuits

See original post.

I think Gords makes an important point: that there’s a fine line between valuing the purity of “naked” open-water swimming, and self-righteousness. The latter alienates people, pushing them away when we should be welcoming them and trying to build our sport.

To be clear:

  • This discussion is primarily about marathon swims – which I’ll define as swims long enough to require a support craft. In practice, this usually means swims longer than 10K. Swimmers who attempt such swims are – or should be – sufficiently skilled and experienced that drowning-prevention is not a valid excuse for using a wetsuit. (Hypothermia is a separate issue.)
  • I have no problem with newcomers to open-water swimming utilizing wetsuit technology to ensure safety, to enhance comfort, and to develop confidence. I believe wetsuits encourage more people to try open-water swimming than would otherwise, and that this is positive.
  • I have no problem with wetsuits in triathlon. I’m not a triathlete myself, but they’re certainly free to run their sport however they wish.
  • I have no problem with swimmers of any ability using wetsuits in training swims, or leisure swims, to help them swim for longer in cold water than they would otherwise, or to extend the training season. I’ve done this myself – specifically, last December in Santa Barbara, with my friend Rob D. My cold-water acclimation has since improved, so I’d probably make a different decision now.
  • I have no problem with people using wetsuits in races in which wetsuits are specifically allowed (even encouraged) – such as many open-water races in the UK (including the Dart 10K, recently swum by my friend IronMike), and most open-water races in the US organized by triathletes. Again, I’ve occasionally worn a wetsuit myself in such races – including the Nite Moves swims in Santa Barbara. It’s annoying to lose to people just because they’re wearing a wetsuit and you’re not.
  • However, as I’ve said before, I believe the above policy creates an unfortunate arms-race dynamic, such that people who’d prefer not to wear wetsuits are incentivized to wear them in order to compete.
  • I also understand there are parts of the world (max water temp < 15C/59F) where significant “skin” participation is simply unrealistic. Frankly, though, if they can do it in Alaska, they can do it just about anywhere.
  • I have no problem with open-water races that offer separate divisions for wetsuits and “skins” – e.g., USMS-sanctioned events. In fact I think they’re great – they encourage participation by offering a wetsuit option, while avoiding an arms race.

What many marathon swimmers, including myself, have a problem with is people who specifically market themselves to the media as marathon “swimmers,” who claim to set records or pioneer new swims – yet who use artificial aids (such as wetsuits) during their swims.

In Scott’s words, it’s “wrong, wrong, wrong!”

5 thoughts on “Follow-up on wetsuits”

  1. Evan,

    I completely agree with your most recent post on wetsuits in marathon swimming. But I believe the of Open Water Swimming is best served by encouraging as many people to get into the sport as possible. The use of wetsuits seems to have provided the most effective tool. However, I do think this makes the swim radically different and should thus be conducted and listed as a separate event.

    I also agree that at some distance wetsuits should not be allowed regardless of water temperature. I think to come to some agreement in the open water community where that division lies requires flexibility by open water swimmers that will not accept them, as well as those that universally accept and promote them. One of the great obstacles is that unlike other sports that have international governing bodies, open water swimming is controlled by race directors or local sanctioning bodies. Until that changes, there will never be a consensus.

    One good thing that this discussion has led to is my conclusion that I need a separate website for pontificating on the many obscure issues that arise in the open water swimming, as well as documenting my swimming in a timely manner. My current website has a specific purpose and is aimed at a wider audience outside the OW community. As an aside I’ll probably also include comments and references to other websites and discussions. Your link will be at the top of the list. Guess what domain name I’ve grabbed?

    1. Bob, thanks for the comment. Sounds like we’re in agreement here… which is cool since I know you have some “tri” in your background 🙂

      Can’t wait to read Bob Swims 2. Some guesses on the domain:

      Am I warm?

      1. lol. Great guesses. Maybe I should check to see if those are available. If I were to choose one I’d go with It has a certain ring to it. I went old school and grabbed Before 2008 I swam in only 1 race that was not in the ocean. Putting aside the Great Lakes, I just thought lake swimming was just that. Swimming in a lake. I think if you are not being smacked in the face with salt spray, what fun is it.

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