As the temperature starts to warm up towards summer, the sea temperature along the eastern seaboard of Australia doesn’t warm up as rapidly, with cooler ocean currents being brought in by strong afternoon North-easterly winds that are common during this time of the year.
I’ve done a lot of swimming in the ocean at Terrigal (NSW, Central Coast) over the last 30 years and generally find the ocean to be cooler at this time of the year (14-17 degrees Celsius) compared to the middle of winter winter (17-20 degrees Celsius) because of this.
With the ocean being cool for endurance ocean swims at this time, organisers of events are often thrown into disarray as to whether or not they give swimmers the option to wear a wetsuit.
Many studies have shown that wetsuits provide advantages in speed, buoyancy, confidence, warmth and safety, particularly with weaker swimmers where the differences in time over a specific distance are more significant compared to those who swim quicker.
I’ve heard very experienced ocean swimmers mention that wetsuits don’t belong in ocean swim events as it goes against the spirit and challenge of the sport.
A lot of debate has taken place on this topic, with many believing that swimmers should be given the option to wear a wetsuit if the water is below a certain temperature.
In one ocean swimming race held at this time last year, organisers held a non wetsuit swim and many swimmers were pulled out from the water or treated for hypothermia following the race.
This was a big safety concern and fortunately nothing too serious occurred.
The following weekend, under similar conditions, competitors were given the option to wear a wetsuit and many participants did this. Fewer people were actually treated for hypothermia because of these safety precautions that were put in place. The small number of people treated were non wetsuit swimmers.
There are many ocean swims that take place throughout Australia over the warmer months.
Rules are varied as the events are often determined by the organisation providing sanctioning for the event. Some offer both wetsuit and non-wetsuit divisions to try and entice more swimmers to participate. In this case, the results for each division are kept separate with different awards given to both divisions.
Others, like the enjoyable, well known and popular Pier to Pub Race held in the cool waters at Lorne, Victoria each January allows all competitors to wear a wetsuit, while others held in warmer Queensland waters, are often non wetsuit swims.
Regular ocean swimmer competitor and a fellow training partner of mine, Don Boland recently invested in a wetsuit for the upcoming NSW ocean swim season, knowing that if he wanted to be competitive and feel comfortable in all events for the season, he would be needing one for a few of the races that he decides to participate in.
Competitive swimming wetsuits can vary in price from anywhere between $400 and $1200, depending on the brand, size, make, etc.
Personally, I choose not to wear a wetsuit unless I am competing in a wetsuit optional race. I could give you the reasons for this but don’t think it my job to convince people to ditch their wetsuits or look down on others if they don’t.
At the end of this, I believe if wearing a wetsuit will get more people to try the great sport of ocean swimming, I am all for it.
What do you think?