Do wetsuits make swimming “dangerous”?

I swam in an event on Saturday. It was  a one-mile swim at my local lake and was quite good fun. I was a little disappointed with my time (35 minutes), especially once I realised that the winner was a junior girl that did it in 21 minutes and 14 seconds. To be honest it might as well be a different sport.

But that’s not what I want to talk about – I’ll bore you about my lost youth, the intricacies of my swimming technique and discussions of my training regime over a pint sometime. What I wanted to talk about was wetsuits.

As I said, the swim was only one mile and the water was really warm (about 21 degrees), yet there was only me and one other that got in the water in only a swimming costume. Two others had long costumes / short wetsuits, but the rest all had a wetsuit on.

What were they afraid of?

Surely it’s not the cold – it was maybe a bit nippy as you got in, but once swimming it was positively warm. And everyone getting into this event will have been in significantly colder water (with a wetsuit, but even so). Was it the water itself?

If I’m not careful I’m going to head off into the same kind of argument that is often used to argue against a helmet law for cyclists. I’ve already talked about that one (read it here), so I’m not going to get into that here, but there are some parallels.

Wetsuits seem to present the illusion that people need “protection” while open water swimming – either from the cold or from the water itself. Yet protection isn’t needed from either. Yet this idea that it will be “bloody cold” puts more people off from getting in in the first place.

People may come back and say that many of the swimmers at this event on the weekend were triathletes and as a wetsuit is mandatory in many triathlons, they were merely practising in race conditions. Which of course is a valid argument for the individuals involved, but I would just refer this post to the triathlon organisers instead.

So if you love open water swimming, try it as a “skin swimmer”, show people that the water is lovely and then persuade more people to join you.


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