Spot Anderson's definitive guide to choosing and wearing wetsuits
Emailed to more than 41,000 ocean swimmers weekly in season.
Winter swimming: Not quite the ocean, but some pools, such as Forster's Bullring, built into the rock shelf, can be like swimming at sea. Water usually is cooler than the sea, because it's shallow and more susceptible to variations in air temperature.
The Wettie Issue
Since our last edition, The Cold Water Issue, we’ve had queries from swimmers wanting to swim over winter, but looking for advice on choosing and using wetties (wetsuits).
We are the first to admit that we, ourselves, are not the ideal ones to advise on this. We own a wettie, and have done so since 2008. But we have worn it to swim only once, for 40 minutes, and that was just to see what it was like to swim in. We didn’t like it.
But we are “lucky” enough to not need a wettie as much as some other swimmers do. We are a little more tolerant of cooler water than some others and, in any case, we have our wettie built in. As Jamie said to us after our #EarlyMorningSwim at Forster this morn, “Me too. Mine’s about a 5-mil.” Not only that, many punters in cooler states would argue that we, where we are in NSW, are pussycats when it comes to cooler water, since our water drops over winter to about 15C minimum. We’re more likely to get cooler water over summer when the Ekmann effect kicks in, but we don’t need to prepare for that since it happens usually overnight and the first we know about it is when we dive in.
In other states, notably Victoria, plenty of mugs, such as the Icebergers, and the Black Icers, swim in water down to 8C in the Bay. We’ve done 12C twice, with the Icebergers at Lorne in late July, and our built-in wettie came in handy on those occasions. Parenthetically, we did learn something from that experience that’s worthwhile passing on: after swimming in water that cool, do not – repeat: DO NOT – jump blithely into a hot shower. We did the first time, and after a few seconds, we almost passed out. You need to jump into a tepid shower and gradually build the temp to something comfy, but not ridiculous.
People who must deal with genuine cool, or cold, know how to handle this stuff better than we do. In Ireland, Donal Buckley (https://loneswimmer.com/) swims in single digits throughout the Irish winter. He’s not alone. Check out Viktor the Iceman, (Viktor Bikiniev, our Russian cobber -- https://www.facebook.com/vik1959) who cuts holes in the ice and swims underwater between them. And he doesn’t have a wettie built in.
Anyway, to get some authoritative advice on wetties, we went to an authoritative source, someone who’s been using them and coaching people to use them for many, many years. We speak of Spot Anderson, triaffalon and swimming legend, who runs BondiFit, "Australia’s premier ocean swim, triathlon & run squad". Here’s Spot’s advice on selecting and using a wettie…
Spot Anderson knows what he's talking about.
Wetsuit technology (both swimming & surfing) in the last three years has been incredible, so if you have had a bad experience with a wetsuit fit, try again as there is definitely something out there for you.
Wetsuits are a bit like bikes: You can get a $99 one or a $999 version.
Wetsuits are a bit like goggles and running shoes, so make sure you get the right one to fit your body type! If you get the wrong one, it won't be an enjoyable swim from day 1 and, furthermore, it may well put you off swimming in colder water, which is the goal.
For swimming speed, long arm wetsuits are marginally faster, but a lot warmer than sleeveless suits.
After your first swim in a wettie, you may think "why didn't I do this 10 years ago".
People will call you a wanker when you first wear a wetsuit - I've warned you ;-) Ironically 80 per cent-plus of those bagging you won't swim as long as you do in your wettie, so I know who's winning this argument!
A touch up? Or a warm down? Winter swimmers come up with some inventive methods of warming up after their #EarlyMorningSwim. Here are some Bongin Bongin Dawnbusters (Image by David Helsham @glistenrr) At Forster, young Joe brings a camping shower that he acquired from BCF'n Fun (See right.)
Warm, flotation and speed
Wetsuit thickness will offer two crucial things - flotation and warmth.
1. Warmth - How sensitive you are to cold will dictate how much thickness you need. 5mm is the standard allowable thickness for swimming, so that's what you want! Don't worry, 5mm is only in the places that float you,so your arms/shoulders still are usually only 0.5, 1 or 2 mm and made of more flexible material than the body parts. Often those who feel the cold are warm in a 5mm wetsuit swimming for one hour in less than 18C water! Remember to wear a thicker swim cap if you feel the cold. (You can also use a neoprene swim cap, made of wettie material, which will be warmer than a latex or a silicone cap.)
2. For slower swimmers and/or those who sink more (lower flotation), you need greater thickness! As above, 5mm is the standard! The X factor here is the water temperature are swimming in (and swim duration). Wearing a 5mm wettie in 21C water gets pretty toasty after 30 minutes! Solution - there is usually a long arm or short arm wetsuit of each wetsuit type.
3. Flotation effect – a thicker wetsuit will put a weaker swimmer in a much higher position in the water, which has a safety benefity! I have a saying – It's hard to drown in a fast, thick wetsuit!
What can be wrong
1. Neck Rash is easily the #1 complaint with new wetsuit wearers! This can be simply a new wearer after their first swim through to a dreaded bad fitting wetsuit! Neck rash can be a deal breaker, so I strongly suggest trying a wetsuit on rather than buying online. Vaseline - when I need it for armpits or general longer swimming/wetsuit use, I use it. There are loads of more expensive, well advertised options but vaso is usually fine! Some people wear rashies under their wetties to avoid neck rash! Note - I've been surfing for 50 years so may have a lizard skin on my neck! (Some punters use sorbolene instead of Vaseline. Sorbelene is water based/soluble, whereas vaso is petroleum based.)
2. Wrong size! Your wetsuit should be snug - you don't want water getting in! My rule for swim/tri wetsuits - If it's a bit claustrophobic when you put it on for your first swim, then it's probably the right size! It's a pain trying more than one wetsuit on in a sitting, so be patient.
3. Arm pits – Make sure it’s comfortable around the armpits. Cheaper wetsuits have fewer panels so are generally not as comfortable, especially after some distance.
Knock yourself out, but it's going to be up to you to do some research. Always read the reviews as these will tell you about little things like wear and tear, fit, neck fitting, durability, and performance.
Some tips -
1. You will pay more for a thicker/warmer wetsuit.
2. You will pay more for a faster wetsuit, even if it's only marginal.
3. There are always wetsuit sales - this is because they off-load last year's models.
Surfing vs Triathlon/Swimming
* Swim/Tri wetsuits are faster, but less durable if you swim a lot, and generally they are more expensive.
* Surfing wetsuits are slower but more durable, and there is a much bigger range to choose from, especially in price!
* Diving wetsuits – my experience is that they are not practical for swimming.
* Retail outlets? Back to Dr Google and use keywords “wetsuit”, “surfing”, “your location”, “shop” (will bring up all surf options), and “triathlon” if looking for faster suits.
Try it on before you buy a wetsuit.
Call the shop before you go in and ask what options they have in your size.
So what do I use?
Please don't laugh, but my expensive race wetsuits don't fit anymore....
1. When I have to race my buddies, I have a sleeveless 5mm Sailfish, which is awesome. Sleeveless due to convenience of carrying it around and getting in/out. It's now three years old and still standing up to my mistreatment. I got it online for $250. It was on special and it gives me no neck rash! This type of wetsuit retails from $200 - $500. There are 3mm long arm entry level wetsuits for $199 - $299 across the brands. If I was racing seriously, I’d wear a 5mm type wetsuit and look to pay under $500 (you probably will need a sale to find this kind of deal).
2. When it’s cold, I wear a surfing wetsuit. This is more for practical reasons and the trade-off is speed (it's slower). I am pretty rough on gear, so want a durable suit as I'm in the water up to five hours per day - mixing floating/slow swimming with rookie swimmers and training with my faster swim group, and sometimes surfing!
This year, I purchased three surfing wetsuits, paying full price (so this is not an advertisement - O'Neill Hyperfreak 3/2mm steamer ($399) and 2mm short arm/long arm spring suits ($249/$349) are my choice. The rubber is amazing with easy in/out and I’ve never had to use Vaseline, even knowing I’m in the water for 3 – 5 hours!
It’s a good idea to look around and try on the options. Remember to imagine what it's gunna feel like in 30 minutes, 1 hour or 2 hours! I also use a short john (sleeveless/short legs) on milder but potentially windy days.
3. Rant – there are a number of swim/tri wetsuits across the brands that have a reverse zip, which is a pain. I would refuse to buy a wetsuit with one of these; it takes two people to do it up.
4. Random – in this day of waterproof cameras, my surfing wetsuits have chest zips which allows me to put camera there while I swim!
Your new gogs must be Swipes
Bronzie Swipes are warm for winter
Our new Swipe gogs have prove very popular, especially those of different shades of blue. Not so heavily ordered are the Bronze model (BR). Perhaps punters have a natural aversion to "bronze" or "brown" as a swim gog. Like a bloke's suit. Perhaps they sound too warm. Maybe not as protective from the sun.
But we have news for you: The Bronze Selene Swipes are our gog of choice right now, and the favoured gog of Mrs Sparkle.
"It's a softer light; vision is not as harsh," Mrs Sparkle tells us. "They're easier on the eyes."
We find that, too. Blue has been generally our favoured colour, and it's what we go for when we look for a new gog. We're a blue kind of guy. But somehow we found ourselves this time with a pair of Bronzies, and we find them the most comfy gog we've worn in a long time. They are the typical Selene fit -- which is comfy anyway -- with wide, soft seals but we find the bronzies just comfy in vision, not just in fit. They're soft and warm, which is noice in winter. Maybe it's a winter thing; blue is a cold colour. Anyway, think about it when next you order your gogs. Look for the Selene Swipe V820ASA-BR. We have plenty in stock.
The revolutionary Swipe technology offers anti-fog capacity that lasts 10 times as long as existing goggles, the makers say.
According to the makers, the "10 times as long" refers to distance they say you can swim before you start to see some fogging with new goggles. They say the standard is 4km, but the Swipes will go 40kms. Whatever, all gogs will fog if you don't respect them and look after them. The issue also is how to deal with the fogging if and when it does occur.
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For advice on looking after your gogs... Click here
What Can We Learn From Swimmers of a Certain Age?
To be a swimmer is to be acquainted with fear, but not to give in to it. And it can be about survival of a different kind.
Image by Monika Aichele
By Bonnie Tsui
This story apeared in The New York Times, June 22, 2020.
Swimming, at its most basic level, is an act of perseverance.
For us humans, swimming is essentially a constant state of not drowning. Unlike most terrestrial mammals, we are not born with instinctive swimming abilities. We have to be taught. We spend hours at the beach or pool passing on that knowledge; in between blowing bubbles and the dead-man’s float, we tell of the porousness between states. To be a swimmer, then, is to always be aware of danger. It is to be acquainted with fear, but not to give in to it.
I’ve spent the last several years writing a book about swimming. In it, I share stories of survival, well-being, community: An Icelandic fishermen swims six hours through 41-degree waters to safety. A New Zealand woman begins swimming to rehab a leg she almost lost to amputation, and ends up a world record-holding marathon swimmer. A mini-United Nations of a swim club forms in Saddam Hussein’s former palace pool, in the middle of a combat zone. In Japan, I discover samurai swimming, or Nihon eiho, the centuries-old swimming martial art. I learn how submergence leads to patience, how diving fosters bravery, how the mastery of rescue and resuscitation is a sign of wholehearted benevolence.
Lately, in these times of protest and pandemic, I’ve been thinking a lot about what our bodies are capable of, and about the ways we work through fear and pain. Swimming is one of those ways.
"A reflection shot from my solstice swim," says Laura Evans (@StIvesMermaid). "The surface just gently agitated the rain that was falling whilst we swam. My fascination with reflection shots has undoubtedly come from my time underwater with @lexilainephoto - they're like meeting another part of yourself." Posted on Twitter.
Over the last months, I have desperately missed my community at the local pool, where the locker room is a tableau on aging: bodies and bottoms of every sort on display. The arc of fitness is long here, and it bends toward seniors. There is wisdom and kinship on tap, because it’s the older swimmers who truly have resilience. What can we learn from them? That swimming can be about survival of a different kind. For many of us, it can ease the struggle through an uncertain time.
As we get older, we all face the prospect of our bodies eroding out from under us. Swimming is the rare sport that you can keep doing, and do well, deep into your later years. It is a kind of bulwark against illness and aging. In fact, it was because of an 80-year-old named Mimi that I finally got up the nerve to swim in San Francisco Bay without a wet suit — after all, Mimi did it every day. A cold open-water swim involves pushing through discomfort to get to something great. It is also about longevity.
One morning at the Dolphin Club, the open-water swimming and boating club in San Francisco, I had a brisk, invigorating winter swim in the Bay with Kim Chambers, the champion marathon swimmer I got to know over the course of writing my book. In 2015, she became the first woman to swim solo from the Farallon Islands to the Golden Gate Bridge, a treacherous 30-mile journey through shark-occupied waters. The two of us perched in the sauna and listened to the gossip being spun around us, in part by that older group: boyfriend troubles, upcoming races, looming surgeries. Kim told me about a group of senior men at the club who call themselves the “Old Goats” — they meet once a week to swim and then socialize afterward.
“I love that for them,” she said. “Oftentimes they’re told, ‘Oh, you might slip and fall, you shouldn’t do that.’ But when you don’t use it, you lose it. For the women, this swim club is a henhouse. Mimi has her spot in the sauna and it’s seniority — she’s 80. Nancy has a citrus farm and she leaves oranges for anyone to take. How can you feel lonely when you have that?”
We are all feeling lonelier these days. The Dolphin Club and its neighbor, the South End Rowing Club, closed early in the pandemic, as did most pools, though phased plans have allowed for limited reopening. But the open water remains open to us.
Our trainer, Noel, a former first grade rugby league hooker, has a thing about fists. He likes to give us "fist sets" in our #EarlyMorningSwim with the #ForsterTurtles. Here, it's good to see that Coota Greg is carrying out Noel's instructions to the tee. It's always interesting to see how many punters open their fists as soon as they enter the water. Greg is not one of them.
On the east side of the Bay, I’ve kept up with my swims at Keller Cove in Richmond. As I walk down the path to the beach, I glimpse an abbreviated span of the Golden Gate Bridge and the spires of Sutro Tower atop Twin Peaks, poking up like the tops of ship masts. I gauge the mood of the water, the weather: steely and gray one day, bluebird sky the next. I like the diverse range of beach denizens — walkers, waders, swimmers — and I go to take my place among them.
Among the swimmers are my friend Heather, 46, and her 71-year-old uncle Jim, a lifelong open-water aficionado who grew up swimming in Maine. As spring turns to summer, I’ve watched pool swimmers I know adapt themselves to the open water, donning wet suits, neoprene caps and inflatable buoys.
Heather’s wife, Krystel, is the de facto mayor of my pool — she knows everyone by name, as well as their swimming habits — but Krystel is the last person I’d expect to see out in this wild expanse, exposed to currents and marine mammals and seaweed tangles that ensnare you during low tide. She is fearful of sharks and other aquatic creatures approaching human size, but swimming is how she soldiers on, in good times and bad. And so she braves the waters of the Bay, fighting to be present in the moment, one morning at a time.
We keep our distance, but we swim together.
Resilience is about sticking your head in water every day, for an hour or more, year after year. That’s the challenge right now — not to put your head down and ignore the world, but to put your head down and absorb it. To remember how to float, in spite of the burdens you carry.
In “The Swimming Song,” Loudon Wainwright III, the musician and bard of swimming who has never forgotten to bring a swimsuit and goggles over his five decades of touring, wrote:
This summer I went swimming
This summer I might have drowned
But I held my breath and I kicked my feet
And I moved my arms around
His song reminds me that, even in the face of fear, one can aspire to buoyancy.
These days, at 73, he has been swimming exclusively in Gardiners Bay, off the East End of Long Island. “There’s a lovely cold snap when you jump in,” he told me recently. “I saw a man last week in a wet suit and felt highly superior until I watched him cover a very substantial distance, much further than I would have gone. It’s all relative, I guess.”
We all have our distance left to go. To get by, we get in. To get on with it. To get through, and come out — hopeful, and subtly altered — on the other side.
Bonnie Tsui is the author of “Why We Swim.”
Whither are we oceanswimsafaring?
Cathedral Cove, on NZ's Coromandel Peninsula. We swim here.
No-one knows the immediate future, or even the medium term future, so we are unsure of the fate of our oceanswimsafaris in 2021 and beyond. What we do know is that we have cancelled/deferred all oceanswimsafaris for 2020, whilst the pandemic plays out, but we are very, very hopeful that some kind of normality will return next year. At the very least, perhaps we will find a bubble opening to us with New Zealand and, maybe, the Pacific states, such as Tonga, French Polynesia and Fiji.
That said, we are taking enquiries from punters keen to travel to swim, and we are taking advance bookings. We've had several in the past few days.
The beauty of advance bookings is that they lock-in your place on an oceanswimsafari till we know that the tour will proceed, and we are able to calculate the package cost. But if, at that time, you can't proceed, then your advance deposit of $500 per person is fully refundable. The only rule is that you must decide within 7 days of the final package being announced whether you will be coming with us.
We have settled dates for our NZ Coromandel oceanswimsafari - March 11-15, 2021 , and our Philippines - Swim with Whale Sharks oceanswimsafari -- June 4-12, 2021.
We have two oceanswimsafaris to French Polynesia in May, 2021, but both are full at this point. Tonga - Swim with Humpback Whales is scheduled for July 27 - August 4, 2021, Spain - San Sebastián is August 24-30, 2021, and Spain - Costa Brava is September 11-20, 2021.
Fiji dates are yet to be determined.
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