The first leg of a triathlon is always the swim. When considering doing your first tri one of your first things to consider purchasing is a wetsuit. Specifically, whether a wetsuit will be necessary or not and if so what then. If the race is a sprint and less than .75K it’s likely a wetsuit won’t be an essential race day item. If it is, it’s important to have the right tool for the right job. Too many times it’s assumed that all wetsuits are the same so any one will provide protection from the cold water. A wetsuit that is designed for surfing or diving uses denser material that is pretty tough. This type of wetsuit will provide warmth but will be very counter-productive beyond insulation as it will be very restrictive in the chest and shoulders and actually create a small amount of extra drag. A triathlon or swimming wetsuit is specifically designed for warmth, buoyancy, and being very hydrodynamic allowing the body to glide through the water.
There two basic options for triathlon wetsuits, sleeveless (bibjohn) or full sleeve. The advantage to choosing the sleeveless suit is keeping a “feel” for the water on the forearms as well as a bit of warmth and buoyancy. When making this choice though many people say, if the water is cold enough to require a wetsuit, it’s best to go with a sleeved suit. The benefits of a sleeved suit are more warmth, buoyancy and better hydrodynamics. The only drawback to a sleeved suit will be a small amount of restricted movement in the shoulders. As for fit, a wetsuit should have no gaps and be as tight as possible without inhibiting range of motion. It’s best to feel encased because if there are folds or gaps they will fill with water creating considerable drag and reduce warmth. As for price it’s best to consider that, unlike running shoes, the wetsuit will last multiple seasons given proper care. If there is any possibility in doing several seasons of triathlons it may be best to consider getting a nice mid-level suit that won’t soon need to be upgraded. The main benefit of a mid and upper level suit will be the flexibility and thinner neoprene in the shoulders and chest allowing full mobility and non-restricted breathing. In the legs the material will be much thicker keeping the body more level in the water saving the legs for the rest of the race. Above all the most important thing is to get out in the open water often and enjoy the training!