Gale winds, heavy rain, and cold temps made the 2017 ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Championships even tougher. Because of these harsh course conditions experts had predicted a slow day, but a remarkable new course record was set by Swedes Daniel Hansson and Jesper Svensson in a time of 7:58:06. The winning team wore unknown prototype Swimrun suits during that 75 km race and folks looking on were intrigued. A new wetsuit brand seemed to have risen out of nowhere, on the shoulders of these champions.
Hansson and Svensson made their winning move during the 20 km run segment that crosses the island of Ornö. It is the longest running section of the event and since Team Swedish Armed Forces gained their advantage there, the new Swimrun suit they were wearing was also named Ornö. It is the first creation of the new Swedish Swimrun brand Ark Sports.
Not too long ago specific Swimrun gear did not exist. A relatively young sport was searching for its identity and the lack of industry interest created opportunities for folks using their imagination and hands-on experience to shape equipment that fitted the combined needs of swimming and running. The ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Championship is the mother of all Swimrun contests and consequently saw all sorts of movements in gear coming and going. Early on in the sport the gear list was long. Safety concerns motivated the organizers to require lots of mandatory gear. Over the years that list was reduced to the basics. This allowed teams to go lighter and subsequently faster. Triathlon wetsuits or surf shorties were on the forefront and commonly used throughout the field. Specifically tailored products were not heard off. But the unique desires constantly encouraged racers to improve their kits.
Once the Italian wetsuit company Head entered the sport as an official ÖTILLÖ wetsuit sponsor in 2013, they did not yet have a special suit for it. In 2014 the staff of the Head Nordic division requested a special outfit to accommodate the unusual needs of the sport. Up until then there was no Swimrun suit available on the market. Head Nordic went on to design a specific suit. 350 suits were manufactured for the Swedish market and sold out pretty fast. The first batch surely was a success and passionately treasured by the fast growing Swimrun community. Head went on to push the development of the suits. ÖTILLÖ legends Björn Englund and Paul Krochak helped Head Nordic to further increase the quality of their suits. The distinctive front zipper that helps athletes to cool off during the runs could be seen as one of the most visible differences to other non-specific wetsuits. Inside pockets and special buoyancy pads are other features that were established throughout the development process in the recent years.
The driving figure behind the development was Swedish designer Daniel Sand. A dedicated triathlete and Swimrunner himself, he used his experience and the hands-on feedback of the fastest athletes in the sport. Athletes wanted more freedom of movement on land and in the water. Sand listened to them and shaped what hasn’t been shaped before. A persistent design and quality progression saw him developing all five Head Swimun models. Every single Men’s ÖTILLÖ winning team since 2013 did win the competition with a suit that he created.
After successful years consulting for industry giant Head, more and more particular product visions brought on the desire for a new outlet. Together with friends and fellow Swimrunners Dennis Blomberg and Christofer Sundberg he formed Ark Sports, a collective that is created to develop products exclusively for the sport of Swimrun. With their head-office based in Stockholm, the company seems to be right on the pulse of the scene with great training and testing possibilities, plenty of competitions and the notorious archipelago just in front of the brands doorstep.
After experimenting with new materials, templates and styles the trio presented their first prototype suit to then World Champions Lelle Moberg and Daniel Hansson. Moberg and Hansson are well known for their attention to detail and eagerness to try new, pioneering product ideas to gain even more of an advantage. The two Swedes and 2-time ÖTILLÖ winners liked the prototype suits and decided to wear the Ark Sports Ornö suits during the 2017 race. The 590 gram-lightweight racing suit is first and foremost created for running. Precisely what Moberg and Hansson desired. Moberg however picked up an injury and Jesper Svensson filled the gap. Using an extremely resilient but also softer and more moveable neoprene and pair it with an “Anti-Leak” construction it happened to be a product they instantly treasured and a helpful toy to gain advantage in tight competition.
Without overlooking the benefits of a wetsuit in the water, Ark focused on the running performance of the suit.
Swimrun super athletes Lelle Moberg and Daniel Hansson played a key-role in the development process of the Ornö suit.
At last years ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Championships Daniel Hansson's regular partner, Lelle Moberg got injured prior to the race. This however did not stop Hansson.
Ark Sports also plans to offer paddles and buoyancy products to supply a Swimrun athlete in all areas. The company will officially launch their suits in early March and we look forward to see what is next.
All images © Fredrik Wannerstedt