The easiest way to get out of a wetsuit is to not get into one in the first place. Next easiest is to cover yourself with the least amount of wetsuit you can. When I was a wetsuit maker our styles included a sleeveless, short leg wetsuit. You could almost take that wetsuit off while you were running. Next easiest and quickest to take off is a longjohn (sleeveless suit).
The next easiest suit to take off is a 2-piece wetsuit, specifically a De Soto T1. Yes, it’s a fullsuit, but it’s in 2 pieces, and it’s very easy to take off (and put on) for those who have compromised shoulder strength, or shoulder flexibility. This is not the quickest fullsuit to take off; just the easiest.
The hardest, and the slowest, to take off is a standard 1-piece fullsuit. How much slower is it to take off than a longjohn? I would say perhaps 3 or 4 seconds. The entire process of taking off a fullsuit takes 10 to 20 seconds, if things go as they should, and depending who you are. The point of this article is to try to make things go as they should.
First, let’s talk about lubricants, because a lot of people recommend spraying Pam on their wetsuit. I don’t do this, however my quarrel with Pam or any other lubricant is decades old, when I had a wetsuit factory, and we did repairs, and wetsuits would come to us for a repair with lubricant on the wetsuit. We were very liberal in our warranty policies, but one hard fail was when a wetsuit came to us with lubricant on it. When this happened, the wetsuit went right back to the owner, unfixed. We were wetsuit repairers, not wetsuit cleaners. You did have to clean the wetsuit of all lubricants before we could – for example – reglue a seam, because lubricants kept the glue from adhering.
When I have raced with a lubricant on the wetsuit, it was always a bit hard to keep that lubricant off my hands, and that meant riding a bike with slippery hands. I just found it messy, and really not necessary, if you take your wetsuit off with a little forethought and skill. However, if you are going to go the lubricant route, Pam is good; you only spray the outside of the wetsuit; and only the wrists and ankles (and get all that stuff off the suit when you get home.)
You have one advantage over ITU racers, because these folks have very strict rules regarding the use of equipment, and one rule is that you must not take your wetsuit off until you hit the transition area. Let’s explore this, because the wetsuit does already have a lubricant on it. Water. The difficulty in taking a wetsuit off is that the smoothskin rubber gets peeled off, like you’re peeling a banana, and when you’re peeling it off the smoothskin is rubbing against itself. If the smoothskin rubber is still wet (on the outside), that layer of water acts as a lubricant. But that water evaporates very quickly, and a lot of it can be just gone by the time you run from the water’s edge to your place on the bike rack.
So, I always recommend that you take your wetsuit off as soon as you hit a stable spot on dry ground. If it’s stable – so that I don’t lose my balance – and there’s enough room for me to stand to one side and not impede other competitors running to transition – I’ll take my wetsuit off right there. The sooner after you exit the swim that you can take the wetsuit off, the better. ITU racers aren’t allowed to do that, but you are (most likely, and I guess I’d check and make sure there are no funky bespoke rules that attach to that specific race about where you’re allowed to take your wetsuit off).
The natural tendency is to not want to stop and take your wetsuit off on the way to transition, because everybody is running ahead of you while you’re standing there. But at some point they’re going to need to take their wetsuit off as well.
By time I’m taking my wetsuit off – whenever that is – all I’m really doing is taking off the bottom part of the wetsuit, from the waist down. I’ve already peeled off the top immediately after standing up in the water, and starting my run in from the shoreline. It helps to know in advance where the pull cord is, so that you’re not searching for it as you’re running. Some wetsuits have a little hook-and-loop piece attached to the suit, and to the end of the pull cord, for that purpose. I get my wetsuit off during the run up as far as I can, as far down my hips as I can. In the beginning, we put 18” zippers in our wetsuits, but we eventually migrated to 20” and even 22” in taller sizes so that the zipper would extend down past the waist. If it’s a form-fitting suit – ours were – and the zipper isn’t long enough it’s hard to pop the suit over your hips.
Once I get to stable dry land I stop and pull the suit down my thighs, trying not to let the rubber bunch up. Step on your suit with one foot while you pull your foot out of the wetsuit leg. You may need to step, pull your foot up, step on the suit again, pull your foot up one more time. Then the same with the other leg, and then you carry your wetsuit to transition. One nice thing about getting out of your wetsuit early is that you also have time to dry off a little before you get onto the bike.
Some folks advocate cutting a bit of the ankle off the wetsuit, making that exit hole bigger, so that your foot can get through it more easily. Okay. I don’t find that’s necessary, but I get the idea, and it does work. However if you do this you’re cutting off some pretty prime flotation. If you have a wetsuit that has a lot of 5mm rubber all the way to the ankle, you can get away with cutting some of that off (and perhaps you could cut this at an angle, so that it’s cut higher in the calf area, but you leave more rubber on the front of your leg). But if your wetsuit is designed with thinner rubber from the knees down, then cutting that wetsuit’s legs means you have even less rubber to float your legs.
I wouldn’t cut the rubber off your wetsuit’s legs until I knew that I needed to do that in order to get out of the wetsuit quickly.
When do you choose to not wear a wetsuit, because the time to take it off is more of a penalty than the time you earn wearing it? Probably a swim of 400 meters is the over/under. Yes, you take the top part of your suit off, down to your waist, while you’re running. But I suspect you still lose at least 3, and as many as 5, seconds versus running toward transition without any wetsuit on. Then, the act of taking the wetsuit off from the waist dow, is worth 5 seconds for real pros, and 15 seconds for the average Joe. That means, for most of us, it takes a total of about 20 seconds to get out of a fullsuit. If you earn about 7 seconds of time savings for every 100 meters you swim, then you’d lose about 28 seconds if you swam that 400 meters without a wetsuit. This math would make the over/under about even at 300 meters, but all things equal I’d rather just not swim in the wetsuit if I’m going to neither gain nor lose time. Therefore, 400 meters it is. If it’s a 400 meter swim, as short as that swim is I’m probably faster wearing a wetsuit even if I have to factor into my overall time taking the wetsuit off.