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Buyer’s Guide: Wetsuits: Wetsuit Wonders

The days when you wore a wetsuit purely to stay warm in the water are history.

The days when you wore a wetsuit purely to stay warm in the water are history, as you’ll see in our review of some of the fastest suits you’ll see once the triathlon season starts this spring. If you’ve ever seen really good swimmers in the water, you’ll remember that they seem to almost ride on top of the water with each stroke. Wetsuits can help you attain a similar position, without the thousands and thousands of metres you otherwise would have had to endure to achieve that lift. Virtually ever single wetsuit in this group has some sort of “lift” or “buoyancy” feature to help you move through the water faster. Manufacturers have also managed to incorporate lots of other features into the suits – most notably you’ll see lots of panels on the forearm to provide a stronger and more powerful pull.

Axis – $620

As Cervelo is to bikes, blue seventy is to wetsuits at Ironman events around the world – the dominant brand you’ll see stripped off as athletes head into T1. One of the reasons we all swim faster with wetsuits is because the neoprene gets us up higher (basically helps us float) and in a better position to pull through the water. The folks at blue seventy have taken all that a step further with the Axis – they use what they call “Balanced Buoyancy,” in which they place more buoyant neoprene in specific parts of the suit. In order to ensure your shoulders can move easily, the Axis uses flex reach panels, which also help keep the arms separated from the body of the suit, so you can rotate one part of your body and it won’t affect another. Forearm propulsion panels in the forearm also help you “grab” more water with each stroke. Blue seventy suits are renowned for their durability, which makes this suit an excellent choice if you race and train in your wetsuit a lot.

Phantom – $700
Aqua Sphere

Since partnering with Ironman a few years ago, Aqua Sphere has made a real push into the triathlon wetsuit world, and the latest in the Ironman line up, the Phantom, is a masterpiece. Based on feedback from age group athletes and pros like Terenzo Bozzone and Faris Al Sultan, the Phantom combines excellent flotation with flexibility to create a comfortable and fast suit. Some of the new features included in the Phantom really do make a difference – the Core Power System provides some extra support and seems to almost promote hip rotation through the stroke. The Bio-Stretch Zone 1 mm panel, which includes a section of the suit along the back and around the shoulders, allows lots of flexibility just where you want it. The suit is remarkably durable – it’s a great choice for athletes who use their wetsuits a lot.

Vector Pro X2 – $600

Using anatomically designed arms which are individually cut and made with 1.5 mm thick neoprene, the VectorProX2 is another durable suit that is perfect for both training and racing, or for those athletes who race every weekend. The entire front panel and hips are 5 mm thick (from neck to ankles) and coated with Nano-SCS coating to help you slide through the water. The fleX-Span Inner 6006 Liner helps provide buoyancy and flexibility.

3.8 – $699

The re-vamped 2011 3.8 uses 5 mm panels of Yamamoto AeroDome neoprene around the torso to improve your position in the water.  Even more lift is generated thanks to the HydroLift Buoyancy Cells positioned on the sleeves of the wetsuit that help lift your arms through the water. While you probably won’t actually feel any “lift,” it is certainly very easy to move your arms as you pull through the water and recover. The AquaTread forearm panel is designed to provide more power with every stroke. The 3.8 requires a bit of care to pull on as the rubber is very supple and flexible, but the extra time pays dividends once you get in the water.

Cell Gold – $799

Unchanged from last year, this incredibly flexible suit remains pretty much the most comfortable suit we’ve ever tried. The Metal Cell technology pairs high performance Yamamoto GIGA #40 rubber both on the inside and outside of the suit so that it doesn’t absorb much water and really slices through the water. The Cell Gold is so flexible and comfortable it feels like a second skin, but somehow still manages to provide lots of buoyancy. You have to be careful getting this suit on, as the rubber can be nicked easily, but that’s not going to be a concern for those who ante up the cash for this suit.

Frequency – $625

The Frequency is made with Speedline SCS Nano Neoprene and incorporates Nineteen’s Wingspan System, a torso pattern in the suit that’s designed to maximize flexibility in the upper body that incorporates seamless shoulder construction and a 1.5 mm high-stretch back panel that extends to the latissimus dorsi muscles. Your body position is improved thanks to the PT Buoyancy Panel, which uses 5 mm neoprene panels to help you float high in the water. That’s not the only spot the folks from nineteen have added 5 mm neoprene, either, as the Frequency uses more 5 mm rubber than virtually any other suit on the market, but since there’s also so many parts of the suit that utilize 1.5 mm rubber, your stroke doesn’t feel encumbered at all. Other features that help make this a great tri suit are the EasyOff legs and the KungFu Arm Grippers (silicon seal bands at each wrist). The Frequency is also available in a Elle System cut for women.

Prophet – $700

Made with a combination of C39 and C40 SCS Nano neoprene, this suit is extremely flexible through the shoulders and back, but also manages to get you higher in the water thanks to Zoot’s Aqualift technology, which helps lift the core part of your body in the water and helps you roll. The Optimal Kick Design puts your legs in the optimal kicking position and body roll is enhanced by the DYNAhull (single-seam) sleeve construction. The zipper is embedded in 2 mm of neoprene, which makes the back of the suit remarkably flexible. Your legs are put in an optimal position for kicking Finally, the Optimal Kick Design incorporates a shaped pattern to put your legs in a more natural position to kick.

Hurricane – $625

Tyr is no stranger to high-performance swimming and has utilized a number of features in the Hurricane that make it exceptionally fast and comfortable. With five core stabilization panels (Tyr’s 360° Core Stabilization System) and Yamamoto Nano SCS Coated 5 mm neoprene through the leg, chest, and core, the Hurricane gets you nice and high in the water to reduce form drag. The Graded Force Catch Panels are aligned on the forearm to enhance your catch and pull and the thin material used in this area helps maintain your feel for the water, too. Multi-stretch cuffs at the wrist allows powerful strokes while keeping water from entering the suit and the Quick Release Ankle Cuffs make this an easy suit to get out of as you head into T2.