If you are tempted by the idea of open water swimming but want to be prepared when you enter the water, finding the best swimming wetsuits will be key. The truth about open water swimming is that it is unlike swimming in controlled, pool conditions where you can be sure that the water temperature won’t be too cold, and that the water will be relatively clean and free from debris. Open water is a different beast.
What is open-water swimming?
OK, so if you’re new to the game, open-water swimming is the name given to any form of swimming that does not take place within the confines of a pool. Whilst the water may be colder than your average swimming pool, the practice of open water swimming is one that many find invigorating. Immersion in cold water, done safely, can also have a number of health benefits that stretch far beyond those of swimming alone. As there are no lane ropes to help guide you, nor a flat bottom to help you if you become fatigued, we’d recommend being a swimmer of a good standard before you give open water a try.
Why do I need a wetsuit?
Unlike swimming in a pool, open-water swimming has a number of aspects that might leave you reaching for your wetsuit before jumping in. The three main reasons are buoyancy, heat retention and a little added protection from any debris or dirt hanging around in the water since it won’t be chlorinated as with a swimming pool.
There are a whole host of different wetsuits for you to choose from, but we recommend making sure that you choose one that allows you to move freely. You should put your wetsuit on when you are dry, taking care not to tear through the material with your nails or by pulling it on too quickly, resulting in tears. Once the wetsuit is on, it will be tight, but that is perfectly normal as the wetsuit should hug your skin in order to be effective.
If it is your first time in a wetsuit, be patient. The sensation will be different and may well be difficult for you to get used to but there are three main reasons why you should persist which we will now explore…
The Confidence Game
Open water swimming can be daunting if you are a first timer. So you might be pleased to find out that wetsuits are not just a protective layer which helps keep you warm in the water. Wetsuits also act as a buoyancy aid, giving you that little bit more leeway if you are a less confident swimmer. Even if you are a keen pool swimmer, the transition to open water can be a tough one so a little extra help can go a long way towards ensuring you are comfortable in the water.
Equally, we get that the first time you use a wetsuit, that extra buoyancy can be a bit off-putting. For this reason, we recommend taking a short swim the first time you use the suit and increasing your time in water gradually whilst you acclimatise to the fact that you are wearing a wetsuit.
The sensation of swimming through the water will also change as your skin is no longer in direct contact, again this may change the way that you feel you are moving through the water. Still, the added buoyancy afforded by the wetsuit is likely to make you faster, rather than slower, which can give you an added edge in the long run.
The Heat Game
The most obvious reason to wear a wetsuit is when the water is cold enough to make your teeth chatter. If you are unused to the colder conditions of an open-water swim when compared with a temperature-controlled pool, the cold water can come as a shock which makes you feel uncomfortable and can impact your performance. In extreme cases, cold water shock can take hold. If the water is cold or you feel that you are ill-adapted to open water, having a wetsuit is a great way to give you that added protection.
Wetsuits are made from neoprene which is a material used for insulation due to its heat-retaining properties. There are different types of wetsuits for surfers, divers and windsurfers so we advise you to double-check that you are buying the right type of wetsuit for your needs.
The Long Game
If you expect to be in the water for a long time then the added buoyancy afforded by a wetsuit can prevent fatigue from kicking in, in the early part of the swim. Again, that extra comfort in the water will impact your performance by ensuring you maintain a strong and efficient body position for longer. If you expect to be in the water for a longer period than usual, it is best to don the wetsuit.
For more swimming tips for beginners, please check out our blog on everything you need to get started swimming.