A Beginner’s Guide to Wetsuit Shopping

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Now that the swim session my coach runs every Tuesday has moved to an outdoor lido, I have no other choice but to purchase a wetsuit for training and racing in. I knew I’d have to buy one eventually but I kept putting it off because it was all a bit overwhelming…

I borrowed a wetsuit in meantime and quickly came to realise that a well fit wetsuit in the swim lag of a triathlon is like the bike you need for cycling – it’s a necessity of the sport, not a ‘nice to have’.

In an effort to feel prepared for my upcoming race, I started searching online; checking out deals on Wiggle, Chain Reaction and Planet X.

I found it really difficult shopping for a wetsuit… I didn’t know how it should fit, what the difference of a £100.00 wetsuit vs a £400.00 wetsuit was, and I wasn’t familiar with all the swim jargon.

Here is what I learned about choosing a wetsuit that is right for you… from one beginner to another!

As a beginner swimmer looking to buy her first wetsuit, this was the most helpful tip:

If you are a beginner swimmer, you’ll benefit more by buying a beginner wetsuit than one that is considered ‘top of the line’.

This is because a beginner suit gets the swimmer in a better body position, and they are a bit more buoyant which puts the swimmer higher in the water so they’ll go faster. Top of the line suits are less buoyant so they don’t negatively impact the swimmer’s body position or stroke.

Let’s break it down… here’s the Stuff you REALLY need to know:
  1. Buoyancy – 2mm-5mm neoprene thickness is ideal.
  2. Flexibility – don’t buy a surfer wetsuit to save money (I nearly did!). This kind of wetsuit is not flexible enough in the arms for swimming.
  3. Men’s/ Women’s – there is a difference. Don’t buy a wetsuit designed for the opposite sex.
  4. Fit/ Comfort – as a beginner, it should be tight but not too uncomfortable. As we get used to the tightness of a wetsuit I hear we’ll start to prefer a more ‘uncomfortable’ fit that does not let water in.
  5. Putting it on – avoid using your nails when you put on a wetsuit. Pull from the inside if you can to prevent tearing the outer layer.
Lost in all the jargon? ask.

I ended up at the Speedo flagship store in Covent Garden where I got some first hand expert advice. They explained some of the things to look out for and did a body scan to help confirm my size.

I’m not a big fan of this body scan as it said I should be a LARGE!! That was a hit to my confidence!! I’m never a Large (pure vanity). I ended up buying a Medium which didn’t feel uncomfortably snug but was still nice and tight (a much better fit than the initial recommended size).

I ended up buying last years version of the Women’s Tri Comp suit by Speedo (£130.00).

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The Test

Wetsuit – Check! Now for the true test…

A new start line – I’m back in the water and preparing for a 750m swim in my new wetsuit at the ITU London Sprint Triathlon. This was my first time back in open water since ‘the episode’

Success! The water was nice and flat, it was an all women’s wave and I had a friend by my side keeping her cool while I noticeably stressed out waiting for the race to start. We got going, the wetsuit felt like a great fit and the best part: I DIDN’T PANIC in all the commotion.

I ended up finishing the swim in 15 minutes –  1.5 minutes faster than my Crystal Palace pool-swim in early May!

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