Friday, June 29, 2012

How to Apply a Wetsuit

A fellow triathlete recently asked for a better idea than messy wetsuit glue for fixing fingernail tears.

The "better idea" is to never let fingernails anywhere near the outside of a wetsuit!  This is extremely easy to accomplish, and we teach it to every first-timer at the Thursday Open Water Bay Swim clinics.

The first thing to remember is that there is no race to put on a wetsuit!  Take your time, and focus on proper handling of the wetsuit.  The exterior of a wetsuit is quite delicate, but the inside has a fabric lining and is very rugged.  The key concept is to touch the inside as much as possible, and avoid touching the outside.

1. We normally dry our wetsuits inside-out, so the first step is to turn it right-side-out.

2. Next, peel down the top until the openings for both legs are visible.

3. Sit down.  Trying to put a wetsuit on standing up is asking for trouble.

4. Grabbing on each side of a leg hole, insert one leg until it hits firm resistance.  When doing this, do NOT pull hard on the leg of the wetsuit.  A firm tug should be all that's needed.

Tip: New wetsuits can be very stiff, and it takes hours of use for the elasticity to increase.  This means it can be quite difficult to get the foot out the bottom of the leg hole.  One way to ease this is to spray the foot and ankle with lots of expensive Tri-Slide.  Another way is to use a free plastic shopping bag: Fast and easy, and it's something I never run out of and never have to buy.

5. Push the other foot in the other leg hole until it also hits resistance.  At this point, you'll have both legs in the wetsuit, with perhaps ten inches of wetsuit leg extending beyond the foot.  This is why sitting down is important.

6. On each leg, roll the wetsuit leg down while pulling the foot up (along with the wetsuit).  If the foot slides free, give another tug to set it snugly.  Keep rolling each leg down until you are about six inches away from your foot.

7.  Grab the rolled edge and pull until the foot pops out the end hole.  Then roll it down further and pull more until the leg hole rides over your ankle and some way up your calf.  (This extra pull is important - I'll explain why later.)  Repeat for the other leg.

At this point, you are sitting down with both feet through the leg holes, but with lots of wetsuit around and over your legs and feet.  Looking down, the part of the wetsuit closest to you should be the rolls you were tugging on to get your foot through the leg holes.  If it isn't this way, in the words of Picard, "Make it so!"

8.  On one leg, reach about 2-3 inches below the roll on each side of your leg, pinch the loose wetsuit material, and pull just those few inches up your leg.  It should be very easy.  Repeat on the other leg.

9.  Go back and forth between each of your the legs, pulling 2-3 inches on each leg, until it either becomes awkward to grab the roll and pull, or your feet become visible.

10.  If you used plastic shopping bags, reach down and pull them off your feet.

11.  Now stand up, being sure not to stand on the top or arms of your wetsuit.

12.  Keep doing alternating short roll-pulls on each leg until you run out of leg.

Note: As you pull the wetsuit upward, pulling may become unexpectedly difficult.  No, it's not a comment on the tightness of the wetsuit or the shape of your body: It simply means the outer wetsuit is rubbing against and sticking to the inner wetsuit.  Create some slack by pulling up the outer portion.

Tip: One of the most important factors in putting on a wetsuit (and selecting one that fits) is to have it fit snug in the crotch without being either too tight or too loose.  While too tight will certainly announce itself, you may not notice too loose until you are swimming in cold water, and realize your wetsuit isn't keeping you warm.  This is due to the loose crotch material acting as a reservoir and serving as a pump, forcing the warm water from your wetsuit and exchanging it with cold, something that will happen due to incidental leg motion even if you don't kick while swimming.

13. At this point, you should be able to see if you have too little material available for the crotch of the wetsuit to fit snugly.  If this is the case, peel the wetsuit down each leg and repeat all the above steps starting at Step  7.  (This is why that extra tug during Step 7 can be important!)

Now it is time to get the wetsuit over the hips, something that can be a challenge for all but the skinniest of us.  Again, this gets easier as a new wetsuit gains elasticity and conforms to your body.

14.  Keep doing the same pinch-and-pull operation just below the edge of the roll.  Some may be able to make progress pinching on each side of the hips, but others will need to use both hands on each side, alternating back and forth, and maybe adding some Body-English.

15. It can sometimes be difficult to get the suit over the butt.  Worry not, there's a trick for that!  Put both hands  behind your back and grab the wetsuit roll.  Then squat down and pull HARD as you stand back up.  I've never seen that technique fail to get the job done.

16. Keep going until the wetsuit is near the middle of the ribs, or until you can't pull it any higher.

Before we start on the arms, take a moment to check the snugness of the crotch.  It will either be just right, or there will be some extra material gathered there.  To move the extra down toward the ankles, just push your palms against each side of each leg, and smooth the excess down to your ankles.  No pulling or fingernails are required, and this is the only time it should be necessary to touch the outside of your wetsuit.

17.  The arms can go much like the legs, but if you are lucky, a plastic bag on each hand will permit it to go completely through on the first try.  If not, you'll need to do a one-handed pinch-and-pull on each side of your arm until the wetsuit is up to the elbow on each side.  If there is someone nearby who knows this technique, they can help you get the arms up much more quickly.

18.  Getting the shoulder into the wetsuit comes next, and there are a few ways to do this.  The lucky folks just extend both arms straight up in the air, and everything just pops into place.  Other folks will need to roll the collar down, then grab above the shoulder and pull it over.  Then there will be a few who need assistance, where a helper reaches between the wetsuit and your arm to stretch it slightly, then will pull it up over your shoulder.  And some will need to do all the above, in whatever order works  best.

As with the crotch, it is important to get the wetsuit snug against the armpit, without having folds of material there when you arms are at your side.  If you can't get snugness without folds, then add a minimal amount of gap by smoothing the wetsuit down your arm (like you may have done with the legs) until the folds go away.

19. Next comes the zipper.  While some folks can do this on their own, don't even consider it until your wetsuit has lots of hours on it (and elasticity): Pulling too hard on the zipper is the #1 cause of wetsuit damage.  Pinch your shoulders backward, and get a bystander to pull the zipper up.

20. Finally, the collar.  If it is too loose, it will permit cold water to flow into your wetsuit.  If it is too tight, it will be acutely uncomfortable.  The best is to have it barely tight enough to keep the water out.  It may take a few test swims and adjustments to find where this point is.  And if you are new to swimming with a wetsuit, it will always feel too tight for your first several swims.  Don't worry: You will adapt, and the right collar adjustment will eventually feel right as well.

I know this sounds like it is a very long procedure, but believe me, it gets faster and faster with practice, and as the wetsuit gains elasticity.

Eventually, you will be in a situation where you will need to put on a wet wetsuit.  Most will tell you this is simply not possible, or is more hassle than it is worth.  But they'd b e wrong!  The above technique even works when the wetsuit is soaked!  It may take slightly more time, but if you are patient, it will work even then.

It is very likely that the above verbal description has left some you absolutely confused.  If you'd like to help me either take some photos to add here, or even to make a video, please let me know!

1 comment:

  1. A bit confusing to picture Bob. How about a youtube video?