When someone first hears that I will be attempting to swim across Juan de Fuca Strait they typically say “You’re wearing a wetsuit right?” to which I reply “No, I am a skin swimmer.”
I have swum with wetsuits in the past but over time have decided that part of the challenge for me is to swim without one. That does not mean that I will never use one again, but at this time, and for the swim across Juan de Fuca Strait I will not use a wetsuit.
SO WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?
In the ultra-marathon swim world there currently two types of swims:
- assisted swims
- unassisted swims without
What’s the difference between assisted and unassisted
An assisted swim is one where the swimmer is aided in some way. Examples of assistance include certain types of swim suits, neoprene swim caps, fins, the draft of a boat or another swimmer and wetsuits.
An unassisted swim is one where the swimmer is not aided in any way to swim. Swimmers wear nothing more than a traditional swim suit, goggles and a swim cap (not neoprene). They do not draft off another swimmer or a boat. They do not touch or hold onto anything, such as a boat, at any time. They simply swim.
So how does a wetsuit provide assistance
In general, wetsuits provide buoyancy and protection from the cold – but what does that mean for someone attempting a swim across the Juan de Fuca strait?
If you wear a wetsuit you will:
1) Swim Faster.
Increased buoyancy equals less drag I in the water. This translates into more speed. In other words, wetsuits help you swim faster. If you are a triathlete, you likely already know wetsuits make you faster – by as much as 10%. If you skin swim 100 meters in 2 minutes, you might be able to reduce your time by 12 seconds. Calculate that over 30 kilometres and you are looking at a 1 hour advantage.
2) Swim Faster Faster.
In addition to the buoyancy most wetsuits are made with a hydrophobic outer skin. The slippery surface improves ones ability to glide through the water by reducing surface friction.
3) Work Less.
In an ultra-marathon swim you typically pause and tread water or kick on your back each half an hour to feed. If you are in a wetsuit you will easily float and can take a rest break without treading water.
4) Swim Better.
Buoyancy from your wetsuit can provide minor compensation for certain stroke flaws.
5) Benefit from Increased Power.
A well-designed wetsuit provides strategic compression and support panels that postpone fatigue and enhance power.
6) Benefit Mentally
Swimming when you’re cold can be mentally taxing. A wetsuit may help keep you warm enough that you are not thinking about the cold as much. It is one less battle you have to fight.
7) Fatigue Slower
Swimming in the cold causes you muscles to tighten and fatigue quicker. A wetsuit is that keeps you warm will help keep your muscles warm and loose.
8) Fatigue Slower Slower
When you swim in cold water you burn a lot of calories. By staying warm in a wetsuit you are not burning as many as quickly and can therefore swim longer.
So why no wetsuit? It’s really a personal choice. With or without a wetsuit an ultra-marathon swim is a huge challenge. Both assisted and unassisted swims are valid.
At this point in my life I choose to swim without.