In December, I violated another one of those unwritten rules of triathlon. I purchased a wetsuit, sight unseen and without trying it on, from an online store. I was, however, fairly confident about the purchase as I fell right in the middle of every size criteria listed on the sizing table. And given the sale price, it was tough to pass up.
When I received the new Orca Sonar wetsuit, I tried it on immediately. It fit just as I expected based on the comments provided by others. In other words, it took an incredible effort just to squeeze into the suit, and once zipped up, it felt like I was in a fairly solid bear hug. Once confident the fit was reasonable, the wetsuit went into the closet to wait for warmer days. Swimming in the lakes here in December require a chainsaw before anything else.
Today, the wetsuit came out of the closet. (For those of you thinking, "Wow, his wetsuit admitted it was gay," I already thought of that, and just couldn't think of a good way to add it to the post, so skipped it.) A beautiful day, I decided it was time to get the wetsuit into the water. I grabbed my gear and headed to High Cliff State Park, site of the High Cliff Triathlon in July. The first thing I noted when I got to the beach was the plague of lake flies. I had to keep a good grip on my gear, as the bugs kept trying to fly off with everything.
The second thing I noticed was the absolute lack of anyone in the water. It took little investigative work to figure out why. There seems to have been a horrible fish kill in the lake, this year. The shore is littered with dead fish. I wandered to several areas, hoping to find a clear spot, and had zero success. Both the sight and smell was enough to discourage anyone from entering the water.
I headed back to the car dejected. From frozen lake to disgusting lake. How's a guy supposed to get open water swimming in when the conditions are so brutal? Determined to try out the wetsuit, I left the state park considering other options. And luck was on my side when I discovered a park I hadn't known about while looking for somewhere with a beach. A park with a beach NOT plugged up with dead fish.
With only minor struggles, I got the wetsuit on and zipped up, relying on the belief that getting OUT would be easier. I waded into the swim area, and found that the only spot deep enough to actually swim was just OUTSIDE the swim area bouys. I figure they were about 70 yards apart and did 7 laps between bouys. I found the range of motion in the arms to be sufficient, and was't overly claustrophobic because of the suit. I like the added bouyancy, though the extra comfort doesn't completely balance the stress of open water swimming. The murky water, THAT does cause some claustrophobia. To put it in perspective, several times today I found myself hitting the bottom of the lake with my hands. Yet I never actually SAW the bottom. It's that murky.
Even if it doesn't completely counter open water concerns, I felt much better in the wetsuit than in just a swimsuit. I believe it will be a great benefit. It will also help me get more open water swimming done, and that will probably do a great deal to eliminate concerns about swimming in the lake.
Getting out of the wetsuit was easier than I thought it would. While it took some effort, I believe it will probably be worth it to wear it in any race with a swim greater than a quarter mile. I'll be closely looking at times for swims under 440 yards.
So, in the end, it's mixed reviews. Wetsuit, well worth the investment. Orca Sonar, a great wetsuit for the money. Wetsuits making open water swimming a "breeze," not so much. Swimming in Lake Winnebago, disgusting.