Buying a Wetsuit in 2017?

Oh, the horror! Slowtwitchers aren’t representative of the general population of triathletes! So I’m hearing from industry people (manufacturers and retailers) as they look at the chart below (from our flash poll we took yesterday added to polls we take every two or so years).

Hey. I didn’t click the radio buttons. You did. And yes, Slowtwitch is a skewed slice of the triathlon population. Which slice?

The upper-end slice. The older slice. The seasoned slice. Yes. There are a lot of occasional triathletes who don’t frequent Slowtwitch. Newbies. Daters rather than marriers of triathlon. Slowtwitch is guilty. Slowtwitch apologizes.

Our poll of your wetsuit preferences is useless? I don’t think so. I think it’s a pretty accurate reflection of the views of the triathletes who’ve been around, seen things, made decisions based on their tenure in the sport. Slowtwitchers are key influencers. I think Slowtwitchers are dismissed by the industry because industry is often focused on the way things ought to be instead of the way things are.

Nevertheless, prognostications both by the editorial staff and by the most highly regarded forum members very often come to pass.

I’m going to be writing about wetsuits during February. I have a little background in this. In the Middle Ages Aristotle was called, “The master of those who know.” In the modern era the “master of those who know” (Alex Trebek) settled any remaining question, did he not!

Since we’re on the topic of triathlon history let’s take a short walk down memory lane. My segue into wetsuits was not planned. I did not create the first wetsuit marketed to triathletes. I simply created the first wetsuit any triathlete wanted to buy. I began by investigating, as a journalistic exercise, how one might optimize a surf wetsuit for surface swimming. The goal was to make it not slow.

I just used my intuition. I had an old water ski wetsuit that was glued and blindstitched out of smoothskin rubber and that seemed to me to be faster than fabric on the outside (fabric is more durable, so is good for surf wetsuits that need protection from abrasion against the surfboard, which will wear smoothskin rubber out quickly). I wanted to keep water from entering through the neck as I swam. I wanted shoulder mobility. I wanted flotation in the right areas.

I made both a long arm (fullsuit) and no arm (longjohn) version. I swam in them, to see how much slower they were than swimming without a wetsuit. The fullsuit was not slower - surprise! - rather 7 seconds per 100 yards faster. The longjohn was 5.5 seconds per 100 yards faster.

I learned two things that day. First, my life had reached an inflection point. I was no longer going to be employed in the insurance industry. Second, that fullsuits were faster than longjohns.

I think the process is illuminating to any businessman. Your business will talk to you. It’s up to you whether you choose to listen to it.

This inflection-point-day happened more than 30 years ago. What’s interesting to me is that after these 30 years we have people still claiming that longjohns are faster. Why? Everyone is an expert. Alternative facts didn’t appear last month; they’ve always been with us, and are just as good as actual facts if they are more appealing to the reader.

I always made longjohns, because they sold. Longjohns were my industrial judo: I used the strength of stubborn customer factless decisions to my advantage. Not by choice! I repeatedly explained that fullsuits were faster but I made longjohns because of the folks who just refused to believe this.

And this is my first exhortation if you’re going to be buying a triathlon wetsuit in 2017: Buy a fullsuit unless you just aren’t interested in speed. Just make sure your fullsuit is faster than a longjohn, because a bad fullsuit is slower than an average longjohn. (I’ll tell you over the course of this month how to know that your wetsuit is precisely correct for you before your investment in a bad wetsuit is irreversible.)

Just, to reiterate, if you think longjohns are faster what is it you know that these ITU swimmers don’t know? Especially because for the first 10 years of my wetsuit making life I had to endure, “Fullsuits might be faster for regular triathletes, but for pure swimmers like me, I need the feel of the water.” The proof of the pudding is in the racing. Photos attached. I rest my case.

I built my own wetsuit factory. Not the walls and the roof. The inside. I built my own cutting tables, instituted some processes, but mostly I relied on a really great crew of folks who knew the craft of making wetsuits using a glue and blindstitch methodology. The secret to my success? Taco Friday. All the employees took two hours every Friday eating a catered lunch of Mexican food at the owner’s expense (which was two hours well spent if you want to know what's really going on inside your company and what changes you, as an owner, need to make).

When I sold my company in 1995, and left managing it in 1999 to start, Taco Friday was a casualty of my departure. That was a blunder. You have to take care of the people who are important to your business and nobody was more important to my business than the people who crafted our bikes and wetsuits.

In 2002 I emerged from non-compete jail and visited my buddy Emilio De Soto. I asked him what he thought about getting into the wetsuit business. “Don’t know nothin’ 'bout birthin’ no wetsuits,” was his reply, but I got the band (some of my best ex-Quintana Roo wetsuit craftsmen) back together again and about 8 months later the T1 line of wetsuits was birthed. As I move forward in February I’ll write about one-piece versus two-piece wetsuits and contrast all the major wetsuit brands.

I’ll also contrast sales channels. Should you buy a wetsuit consumer direct? Is that really a safe channel? Does it yield the best result? Are there true savings there? What should you look for when buying through a specialty store? What are the important features? What about this company’s proprietary rubber versus that company’s rubber? What are all these trademarked technologies? Which are worthwhile?

All coming this month, along with how to properly take these wetsuits on and off, care for and store them, fix them or have them fixed when they fail outside of warranty.

In short, in my history both a bike maker and a wetsuit maker I learned that deploying knowledge wisely in the wetsuit category is worth more dollar-for-dollar, and just about anything you can spend on the bike.