Do you only swim ‘newd’, or are you impartial to a bit of rubber?
This question is at the heart of the annual wetsuit debate between ocean swimming traditionalists and the modern-day ocean swimmer.
Die-hards will preach that “you’re not a real ocean swimmer if you wear a wetsuit”.
You’ll know the type when you meet them, they’re a lot like vegetarians, they’ll give you their viewpoint before you even ask.
The stigma is uniquely Australian, it doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world to my knowledge.
It’s also unique to ocean swims – you’ll be hard-pressed to come across it at open water swims and triathlons (where wetsuits are worn like a badge of honour).
The crusaders for a wetsuit-free world do have their heart in the right place. There’s something to be said about the freedom of swimming in nature, “au naturel’, and I can see why we would want to protect this.
It’s a little confusing though because enjoying the freedom of ocean swimming doesn’t naturally fit with the competitiveness of racing, yet, that seems to be where the balance of the angst comes from.
Whilst wetsuits can give you an advantage of up to 10%, in my experience the main reasons swimmers wear wetsuits are to stay warm and boost confidence.
It’d be great to see ocean swimming more empathetic to swimmers who choose to wear wetsuits, or any other piece of supportive equipment, whether it’s social ocean swimming or at an event.
For most, stepping up to the water’s edge and taking on the open water will take all the courage they can muster. If wearing a wetsuit means they will get greater enjoyment from this experience, then that’s fantastic.
Far from it being about what you wear, ‘you’re a real ocean swimmer if you turn up and give it a go’.
Here’s our most comprehensive article on wetsuits, including what to look for if you’re thinking of buying one.