When i first started triathlon back in 2008 I began with pool triathlon, not needing a wetsuit for my first year or so I lived in ignorance of the challenges of finding a suit that fitted "just right", didn't make me feel like I was suffocating and was not so inflexible on the shoulders that I was fatigued in 100m….
In 2009 I moved up from short course sprint triathlons to the UK 70.3, held at WImbleball. This meant I needed a wetsuit….
At the time we lived near Malmesbury in Wiltshire and my local triathlon mecca was The Big Adventure Shop (or "add link"), they were the guys who built and fixed my original tri-bikes, they were where I went and spent larges amounts of cash (every triathlete knows this is the reality). They were also the place I was first fitted for a wetsuit. I went in not really knowing what I wanted, but with some £s and an understanding I was a good swimmer…..I left with an original Orca Alpha.
It was a great suit, flexible on the shoulders, good buoyancy and fitted well (although at the time I felt that it wanted to kill me…..), the team at TBA did really well, it was the suit that got me out of the water usually in the top 10% of the field (sadly bike and run were never as good). At IM Switzerland it helped me to a sub hour finish for the 3.8km and ahead of 3 of the Pros…my last race in it was my first proper OW race (rather than Tri swim), the Great East Swim 1 mile swim which I completed in 24:XX, it was a great suit, but as with all suits the neoprene eventually wears too thin…
When the Alpha died I was a member of the BCTTT a Tri club with a difference, online only but with some great "sponsorships/deal" arranged through the founder Darren Roberts, Conehead. One of these was with Deano, originally a main player at BlueSeventy, but at the time he was setting up his own company, Huub. I bought a Huub Archimedes from him, originally a 3:5, but he changed it to a 4:4 as the buoyancy was way too much in the first one.
This lasted for a while, however it failed under the arms, there was a seam which was poorly placed and the inside of the arm rubbed on it with each stroke, leading to eventual failur. To his credit Deano shipped me a prototype suit, which would eventually become the Archimedes II, as an apology for such a quick failure…however I never really got on with this suit, despite my pool times getting faster it never seemed to be reflected in OW and I constantly felt I was fighting the suit. Finally after doing the 14km Bridge to Bridge in it and getting some pretty bad rubs I decided to look elsewhere.
In 2015 thin neoprene was just coming in, the only company with it was Orca and as I have a swimming background it seemed the right choice.
For flexibility and comfort the 2015 Orca Alpha was outstanding, however it was COLD……with so much 0.8mm neoprene used on the suit (basically, the arms, the shoulders, the chest and the back) despite its titanium internal coating it was cold, great for swimming but only in very warm waters. I swam the Bridge to bridge in it but over a season the neoprene on the shoulders wore thin quickly, so back to Wiggle it went, roughly a year after purchase. After looking at many option I tried a small company call Yonda, fantastic service, happy for me to try on and even swim in their suits. I ordered a Ghost from them, what a suit, flexible, warm and just the right buoyancy.
I swam all of 2016 in my Yonda Ghost, PBing at the Bridge to bridge and finishing the season at Windermere completing the 17.5km in 5hrs 20mins. It was a great suit with one slight drawback, when I finished Windermere I noticed I had worn through the underarm neoprene. I spoke to the head of Yonda and he was partly the seam lines along with the distances swum (apparently I swam further in my suit than anyone else they had sold one to), he offered me a good deal for 2017 and just before the 2017 OW season started a new Yonda Ghost appeared. They had improved the seam lines and it felt better as a result. Over the three months I swam in it from April to July (I was out with Shingles for a month) I swam nearly 100km in it, over 40km of that in the past 3 weeks. Sadly last week it developed the same issue my previous suit had, the neoprene just fell apart under the arms, I spoke to Yonda again and after some back and forth we decided that there was little reason to burn through another suit, it was probably just an issue with me, the distances I was doing (most triathletes will not swim 50 or 60km in a wetsuit in 2 or even 3 seasons) and the materials in the underarm area, therefore we decided to go our separate ways.
So "what now"? I knew thin arms/shoulders were a must, however buoyancy is always a bit hit an miss in buying suits. The options on suits are limited on the high end, bearing in mind I wanted something that could stand up to high mileage. I narrowed it down to ROKA, Orca and Zoot, the B70 Helix and Zone3 Victory being for stick insects. I really wanted a ROKA Maverick X but the only way to buy one was to import it from the US…which meant it was going to cost nearly £1k with import duties…way to much. I ordered a Zoot WikiWiki from Wiggle, think Neon Stormtrooper (see the image below):
A fabulous feeling suit but just too big in XL (and a L would have been waaaay too small), so back it went….and so, back to Orca…
I ordered an Orca Predator, their top of the range suit, like an Alpha but with thicker neoprene throughout, and slightly more buoyancy in the legs. I tried it out on Saturday and it felt good, still cold on the arms but nothing like my old Alpha…fingers crossed it will improve over swims,
I am looking forward to another swim in it on Friday when I get back from Chicago…