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The 2014 Triathlete Buyer’s Guide magazine is out on newsstands now (and check out the digital version), and we’re giving you a sneak peek right here. Check out the wetsuits from the guide below and check back to Triathlete.com for more Buyer’s Guide content.
The draw: Hip lift, shoulder freedom
The brand’s top model has gotten away from serving skilled swimmers with hip-driven technique and now better supports those who need more help with body position in the water. It has the same great details the Helix has become known for—reverse zipper, textile forearm panel, seal wrists—and more buoyancy is concentrated on the lower body. The suit is well suited to swimmers with a fast stroke tempo, as the shoulders are free to move without restriction. Before racing, swimmers with a hip-driven stroke should use it repeatedly to get accustomed to the suit’s extreme buoyancy.
TYR Freak of Nature
The draw: Comfort, speed and bravado
Picture this: it arrives at your door in a James Bond-esque briefcase complete with its own cleaning supplies and a swim cap. You give yourself a good 10 minutes to get your Freak on (it’s a struggle), then jump in the water. The reward for that effort is feeling like you’re swimming in a second skin, with super flexible shoulders, perfectly placed buoyancy panels that set the body in a neutral position, and gentle core and quad compression. Coming out of the water it glides off easily. This super hero-esque suit is not for wallflowers or the faint of wallet.
The draw: Powerfully responsive
Whether swimming easy for warm-up or fast during a race, this suit responds without added strain on the hips or shoulders. The wetsuit synchronizes with any style of stroke technique: hip-driven, shoulder-driven or hybrid. Once the suit is over the hips, it has a relaxed and conforming touch on the whole body that transfers into the water. Make sure to get the suit wet before racing to allow it to settle into place, which helps seal the neck and wrists.
De Soto Sports T1 First Wave
The draw: Upper-body freedom
The San Diego-based company constructs its suits with a unique two-piece design and its feel in the water is equally distinct. Separating the pullover from the lower body allows it to expand and slide more freely than other suits without being anchored to the rest of the body. Water doesn’t slip in between the pieces of a well-fitting set even though it doesn’t compress the upper body like a typical suit. Pulling it off is about equally challenging to a one-piece with a little practice. Dividing the pieces allows this suit to fit a wide variety of body shapes.
2XU A:1 Sleeveless
The draw: Effective fit, plenty of lift
Sleeveless wetsuits are tricky to fit; they must keep water from dragging at the armpits without restricting your stroke by pinching. With seven sizes to chose from and an expertly crafted cut, the A:1 does just that while also boosting the hips, legs and chest for optimal body position in the water. All of that earned it high marks from both novice and expert swimmers. On a not-too-cold day it feels like a secret weapon for extra shoulder freedom.
XTERRA Lava Pants
The draw: Race-specific training
Think of these neoprene capris as the ultimate pull buoy. Like the common training tool, they help achieve an efficient, horizontal body position in the water by floating the hips and legs towards the surface. Since they still allow free movement, they closely mimic the feeling of swimming in a wetsuit. Take them to the pool and train with the Lava Pants to adapt to the effect and you’ll be better prepared when racing in a full wetsuit.
Nineteen Pipeline SL
The draw: Unencumbered feel
The Pipeline goes on and comes off exceptionally easily. When you jump in, feel free to spin the arms as fast as possible without any consequence for your stroke mechanics. It may feel somewhat tight on land, but the body will loosen up in the water and won’t impair your kick or hip rotation. If you find water rushing into the chest, go with a smaller size.
The draw: Flexible for the price
Inflexibility is a common concern with affordable full-sleeve wetsuits. Many suits in this price range use rigid materials and do in fact restrict shoulder movement, but Orca sidestepped that problem. The S5 stretches and flexes freely. A generously thick panel of spanning that goes from the legs to the chest helps keep even a new swimmer up toward the surface. Some water can trickle into the suit through the neck, but its low-cut shape helps prevent chaffing.
Roka Maverick Elite
The draw: Body position improvement
Wearing the Maverick Elite, the choice of Olympians Javier Gomez and Gwen Jorgensen, gives the sensation of swimming downhill. It jacks the hips and legs of even the bulkiest swimmers to the surface. Thinner panels of neoprene on the chest help the body lift into a balanced and level position. Shoulder flexibility is remarkable, and stretching for a full stroke feels natural and free of resistance. The low-cut neck feels comfortable yet it still seals effectively.
The draw: Speed-oriented fit
Cut tightly and featuring a supportive core, the Aspire helps compress the swimmer into a slightly smaller package to reduce drag. This sensation of resistance is limited to the midsection—it doesn’t pull on the arms. The suit’s firm design helps put even more power into the water. Pure swimmers will love the natural feel of this suit, and those with less refined technique will benefit from its ample buoyancy. Water doesn’t seep into the suit, keeping it warm and as buoyant as possible long into a swim.
Zoot Z Force 3.0
The draw: Affordable, good buoyancy
Every beginner wants to feel fast in the water, and the Z-Force meets this expectation by forcefully propping up the swimmer. Take time to find the right size, as fit can be tricky. The wrong size can allow water to pool, especially for those with a skinny upper-body build. Although the arm and shoulder paneling is stout and thick, the suit still feels eager to turn a fast tempo. The hips and shoulders stay in sync. Find the right fit and this can be a breakout wetsuit for a developing swimmer.
Aqua Sphere Challenger
The draw: Stretchy comfort, all-over float
A durable suit, the Challenger features special stretch panels at the wrists and ankles for easy on-and-off in transition. While it’s a bit stiff in the shoulders, testers appreciated the soft, chafe-preventing underarm material, comfortable neck, and the all-over buoyancy that countered dragging hips and legs. This is a solid entry-level contender that can help ease a swimmer into developing open-water confidence.