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Wetsuits: Creating the artificial swimmer?

'Is a wearing a wetsuit cheating?' This is a question that we are sure many of you have thought about at least once so we have decided to open a debate. Richard from Train2Swim has kindly given us his views below - What do you think? Do you agree? Please tell us by commenting the post!

“I felt I was swimming like a duck” -  This was how I felt the first time I donned a wetsuit designed for competitive open water swimming!

I come from a competitive swimming background where I performed at a national level, so buoyancy for me has never been an issue in the water. But when it comes down to temperatures below 18 degrees I become a shivering wreck, so I bite the bullet and wear a wetsuit just to keep me warm.

When I first wore a wetsuit it shot me back to the days when they first introduced the fastskin suits to pool swimming, all manner of records were being broken from club to international and it all seemed to be down to the skin you wore on your skin. Initially this was great especially for those who could afford the hefty price tag but very quickly (even at the age of 14) I realised that these suits were starting to tarnish everything that I loved about my sport of swimming. The swimming mind set was changing from “how can I tweak my training and stroke to improve my performance” to “how can we improve the equipment we wear to make it easier for swimmers”.

For me any competitive sport is about what YOU can achieve through hard work and dedication, it teaches you that there are no shortcuts to your best performance and when you achieve your genetic potential you experience possibly one of the greatest indescribable mix of emotions,.

So even though everyone was still wearing the skins I resorted back to my trusty pair of speedo’s, I didn’t want to break records because of a suit I wanted to break records because of my own hard work.

Much to my surprise the suits were banned not long after the Olympic games the reason was the controversy caused by the large number of world records that were broken by competitors wearing polyurethane swimsuits, the next generation of the original fast skin suits. These suits were deemed to be providing an artificial advantage by increasing buoyancy and reducing drag.

So the question I ask is why are wetsuits in competitive open water or triathlon continuing to move to a point where they do the swimming for you? I can understand that from a safety point of view wetsuits give that peace of mind to any event organiser or governing body but when does it get to a point that the buoyancy in a wetsuit is cheating?

I heard a competitor at an event not so long ago state that wetsuits even the playing field in triathlon as swimming is the weakest event for the majority of athletes! When has competitive sport ever been about evening up the playing field!?

Other competitors have stated that learning to swim with the legs raised is too difficult (As a swim coach I can assure you that with the right instruction this isn’t a difficult thing to achieve) but do not fear the wetsuit company has designed a suit with extra buoyancy in the legs to tackle this issue.

For me designing products that do the work for you is no different than blood doping, it sends out the message that you don’t have to correct that kick because we can do it for you! Where is the sense of achievement in that?

At any high level event I do strongly believe that the use of wetsuits that give an unnatural advantage should be banned, this is what will “Even the playing field” and reveal our true champions.

For those starting out, using a wetsuit with a lot of buoyancy is a great way to make your first open water swim enjoyable and stress free but don’t let it become the solution to the problem. Everyone can achieve a great swim with the right training and believe you me no matter whether you are competing in the Olympics games or at a club tri doing it and finishing it knowing that you put the hard work and effort into correcting your faults will give you a greater sense of achievement than knowing that your wetsuit did it for you.

Richard Watts

Owner train2tri/train2swim