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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Swimsuit Differences Between Pool And Open Water Swimming

Andrew Dampf of The Associated Press wrote an article about how no pool world swimming records could be set this year, for the first time since FINA has been keeping records in 1908.

Over 100 years and no world records were set for the first time ever - entirely due to the use of the very fast buoyant technical swimsuits with compression panels available in 2008 - 2009.

The technical swimsuits caused grat alarm among pool coaches around the world and complaints about the lack of credibility and equality in pool swimming built to a thundering cresendo until FINA modified its rules.

Similarly, competitive masters swimmers and many marathon swimmers were not happy that technical swimsuits and wetsuits were allowed at some open water events and used by some open water swimmers.

But, interestingly, the similarities between the pool and open water swimming world vis-a-vis swimsuits ended abruptly this year.

While the pool swimming world immediately shifted to the textile swimsuits and hoards of competitive, age-group and masters swimmers were left with an expensive, but non-legal, inventory of technical swimsuits in their closets, the sport of open water swimming continued to appeal to a growing audience.

While some open water competitions outlawed technical swimsuits, others allowed wetsuits. While some open water competitions permitted wetsuits under certain temperatures, extreme cold-water swimming is at an all-time global popularity. While some swimmers sniffed at swimmers clad in wetsuits, growing masses of swimmers in wetsuits gathered along the shorelines of oceans, seas and lakes around the world.

An open water swimmer can compete in sanctioned races in one type of swimsuit, do a solo channel swim in another type of swimsuit and wear another type in invitational or mass participation swims. Open water swimmers often find themselves adapting to different swimsuit standards just as they must adapt to different water conditions.

In other words, as the pool swimming world quickly coalesced under one global textile swimsuit standard (with minor variations and interpretations), the open water swimming shifted gears and went the entire other way - to a totally decentralized community with an unprecedented and increasing ability to offer competitions that appeal to all levels of interests, abilities, ages, water temperatures and swimsuit standards.

So instead of being exclusive of new equipment and swimsuits, the open water swimming community became inclusive - of all types, interests, levels and swimmers.

There are reasons for open water's growth and this flexibility and acceptance is one.

Copyright © 2010 by World Open Water Swimming Association


  1. I couldn't agree more! I believe part of the draw of open water swims is not only the venue but the race characteristics and suit selection is part of that. Sure if you want to try out for Team USA and swim in the Olympics... follow those rules if not...

    I say enjoy the race for what the race is... Warm/Cold, Ocean/Lake, salt/fresh water, rough/ calm, jammers only etc...

    My issue with the tech. suit ban in pool swimming is that it is an effort to level a playing field that isn't level to begin with.

    Are we really to think everywhere in the World, swimmers have access to the same facilities, coaches, physicians, nutritionists... etc.. etc.. Of course not! Swimmers should be allowed to race in whatever santioned suit helps them swim their fastest.

    No reason to beat a dead horse, I love the open water swimming community's open attitude to suits and swimmers of all types and kinds. Hope hope to see it continue into the future.

  2. In response to: "No bodysuits, no world records in swimming" By Andrew Dampf, The Associated Press....

    The pool playing field became even as almost all elite competitive swimmers were wearing the tech suits, except those under Speedo contract. Speedo got caught off guard, asleep at the wheel as swimwear technology passed them by. They went from a monstrous majority of market share at the 2008 Olympics to about almost nil by the 2009 World Champs. Some USA swimming representatives, coaches, and athletes were under Speedo contract, thus not allowing their swimmers to wear non-Speedo suits, although many desired. Interesting response by Mark Schubert about buoyancy, because he was nowhere to be heard in the mid nineties when Speedo introduced the first tech suit that aided buoyancy and body position....but of course he was under Speedo contract then, and their suit introduction benefited him.

    Open water is its own animal, and in need of added protection from the elements. Wetsuits aided triathlon through the last 20+ years which contributed to an explosion of that sports growth, and will do the same for open water. It's only a matter of time before the traditionalists recognize there are alternatives to achieving personal accomplishment.

  3. Gerry rightfully points out that wetsuits have certainly aided the growth of triathlon, I'd go further and state that triathlon would not be nearly as successful as it is without them. I also agree that open water should continue to do it's own thing. That being said, "traditional" open water has also grown significantly. Race promoters have included wetsuit divisions which has created additional revenue for there events. However for those race promoters who have universal suit rules (no separate divisions) may find the growing number of traditionalist OW swimmers avoiding them and going to races that are more likely to recognize there efforts. Another area race promoters might improve is by providing specific guidelines on what qualifies wetsuit and non wetsuit rules. For example English Channel rules don't allow for a neoprene swim cap however most San Francisco bay races will allow the cap and still be able to swim and place in the non wetsuit division. Another example might be the fabric based Speedo Fastskin ankle length, is that OK in a skin division or not? some non sanctioned events are unclear which can cause angst at the finish line.

  4. As long as open water races have separate categories for awards and records I am OK with the all materials are welcome approach. It just needs to be acknowledged by everyone involved that wetsuits give you a distinct advantage over non-wetsuits swimmers. If wearing a wetsuit makes the swim more comfortably for folks and increases open water swimming appeal great. But I would hope that they don't except to be rewarded for it. Although that being said where do we draw the line? What about flippers? It is a slippery slope as they say.

  5. I am all for wetsuits, hand paddles, fins and Swim Angels for open water swimming competitions, but for a clear designation for awards. Not everyone can - or wants to - swim long distances in cold water. Each race director makes his/her own decision whether or not to separate the categories between those who use equipment (wetsuits, fins, paddles and inflatables that can be hooked to one's waist). The athletes themselves know that use of a wetsuit is helpful. If a race director includes both wetsuit and non-wetsuit swimmers in the same awards ceremony, please inform the race director of the inequality of this decision. Additionally, please inform The Daily News of Open Water Swimming of these events so its readership can learn of this equality. Appeal to their sense of fairness. If that does not work, then try to enjoy the race without feeling cheater that you were beaten by a wetsuited swimmmer. If that still doesn't work, boycott the race and express yourself in writing to the race director. Most race directors will lend a friendly ear and will make adjustments to satisfy their participants. However, some races, like the Distance Swim Challenge in Santa Monica, California and the Great Swims in Great Britain, are specifically aimed at triathletes and new swimmers, so they encourage use of wetsuits. Other races like in the San Francisco Bay area, encourage use of neoprene hats and wetsuits, if desired. Our sport is growing exponentially, so there is always a swim for everyone...somewhere. Good luck.


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