Triathlon Wetsuits: Relatively Speaking
Triathlon wetsuits are distant cousins of the normal wetsuit and are used for other water sports such as snorkelling or diving. Because of the specific requirements of the three-stage event, special triathlon wetsuits were designed in the late 1980s to give several advantages to triathletes for the swimming stage of the race. A normal wetsuit, in a sense, is a 'drag', and will slow down the swimmer considerably, so wetsuits for this special event will often be much thinner and smoother than their bulkier relatives, with modifications that are 'suited' for triathlons.
In 1987, entrepreneur Dan Empfield invented a special triathlon wetsuit and manufactured and marketed it through a company called Quintana Roo. These suits were specially designed for the swim stage of the triathlon and gave the user several benefits.
An Arm And A Leg
Shoulders and sleeves of triathlon wetsuits are where the most difference can be seen. The sport requires a great amount of unrestricted movement but also protection from the cold because open waters are usually used for the race, rather than temperature-controlled environments. Thinner neoprene is used near the shoulder area so that the ball and socket joint could move freely without the cumbersomeness of the 'normal' wetsuit. Sleeveless models were also introduced to help reduce the drag; however, later designs started incorporating rougher surfaces on the sleeves in order to increase forward drag and help the swimmer go faster in the water. Zippers were also longer, and with additional zippers being added at the wrists and ankles, triathlon wetsuits were very easy to get in and out of during transition from one stage to the next.
Other innovations in triathlon wetsuits include overall material integrity and coefficient of drag. To reduce the water friction, thin, slick surfaces are best, and the drag is considerably reduced, allowing the triathlete to use less effort for the same results. However, this makes them fragile and more susceptible to damage from abrasion, so often it's a trade-off between durability and added advantage. Professional triathletes, however, will usually go with whatever advantage they can gain rather than think about how much it will cost them, but for the casual triathlete (if there is such a thing), the differences may only give them a very minimal edge that may not make a difference in the win-lose odds.
Like A Knife Through Butter
Yet another key difference between triathlon wetsuits and other suits is the use of single-backed neoprene. The double-backed variety naturally is heavier so not as suitable for fast movement through the water. Its single-backed neoprene counterpart has the advantage here, as it allows the water to move smoothly over the suit when swimming. The forward drag aspect of the sleeve, as mentioned above, is usually a personalized preference, and can be achieved by various texturing methods or rubber molding.
"Standard triathlon swimsuits" is actually a misnomer, because different countries allow different 'standards'. The USAT in America, Triathlon Canada, Australia Triathlon and British Triathlon have their own requirements based on how the rules have evolved in that country, so the best guide for buying a triathlon wetsuit is the regulatory body in the country where you will be competing.
Best Of The Bunch
Some of the best triathlon wetsuits are the DeSoto T1, Ironman Fusion and VO2 Stealth, Orca Predator 2, and the O'Neill Triathlon 4/3. Warm, fast and buoyant â€“ good words to describe these world-class triathlon wetsuits. There are, of course, several dozen other brands all over the world making good to great suits, and in a big price band as well. When picking a wetsuit, you need to be sure of the fit, the maneuverability, easy of removal and cost. If you can find all of these in the same triathlon wetsuit, then that's the one for you.