Swim

Reviewed: Roka Maverick MX Wetsuit

Roka ramps up the flotation to the max with their brand-new buoyancy-focused wetsuit.

Basics: Lots of super-thick neoprene that could float a sinking ship

Pros: Provides tons of buoyancy for new swimmers or those with “dragging issues” with few downsides

Cons: More neoprene makes this a heavy suit, and the price is a tough pill for beginners.

Related reviews:

Unboxed: The New Super Floaty Roka Maverick MX

Ask Chris: What’s The Best Wetsuit for Beginners?

Video Review: HUUB Brownlee Agilis Wetsuit

Roka makes some great wetsuits, but more than that, Roka is willing to think outside the box and cut their own path through the multisport forest. Even their sunglasses have often led trends, rather than following them, and with the introduction of this no-holds-barred floatation-or-bust wetsuit, it’s possible we could see Roka pioneering a shift in how triathletes think about neoprene. Before we go any further, yes, this wetsuit is USAT, ITU, and Ironman legal: All three governing bodies only say that the maximum thickness for a wetsuit cannot exceed 5mm in any one place—which the MX adheres to. While there’s no one spot on the MX that exceeds 5mm, you’ll find thicker neoprene in places where most wetsuits back off on thickness for various reasons, but we’ll get to that below. The MX is a bold wetsuit that basically targets less experienced (or floatationally challenged) swimmers who need more lift in the water to help with poor swimming posture for whatever reason. So why haven’t brands done this before? Read on to find out.

Roka Maverick MX Wetsuit: The What

Roka’s new wetsuit basically ignores the common thinking that a wetsuit needs to be lots of different thicknesses in lots of different places. In most cases, you’ll see a wetsuit with 5mm neoprene in the legs (or less), 5mm of neoprene somewhere in the torso, 3–4mm of neoprene to fill in those gaps around the 5mm, and then anywhere between 1–2mm of neoprene in the shoulders and arms. The reasoning behind that strategy is that swimmers generally don’t want lots of neoprene inhibiting their stroke (or sometimes their kick), that less neoprene is lighter (and thus less to carry in the water), that swimmers want more and less floatation in some areas to help with rotation, and that swimmers don’t want to feel too much restriction in their torsos that could prevent them from breathing. That said, the biggest factor in the “less neoprene is more” logic is by far preventing restriction in the shoulders. The MX goes in a different direction by using a TON of neoprene through the legs all the way up to the hips, then only slightly less in the torso, and slightly less than that in the arms—more like a 5mm/4mm/3mm profile.

Roka Maverick MX Wetsuit: The Why (& How)

The reasoning behind adding more buoyancy is that the higher a swimmer sits on the water, the less drag they create as they swim. Since water is thicker than air (right?), you’re better off by having more of your body in the air than under the water. Typically swimmers who sink more include beginners who might not have a great body position, more densely muscular swimmers (like a cyclist), or someone who’s very lean with little body fat (runners). You could also be a swimmer with a particularly detrimental kick who might want to take some of your legs out of the equation. You don’t need a PhD to understand that thicker neoprene results in more lift in the water, which is—in theory—a good thing for lots of the swimmers we just listed above.

Roka Maverick MX Wetsuit: Why Now?

So while it may seem like a simple no-brainer to add more neoprene, the one thing swimmers hate more than sinking is getting fatigued arms while they swim in a wetsuit. This is one of the big reasons why some wetsuits are more expensive than others—they use thinner and more costly neoprene (to counteract the fragility of thin neoprene) to ensure that your arms can move as freely as possible. The way Roka gets around this is by using their “arms up” cut in this wetsuit and a few others. The idea here is that Roka cuts their wetsuit pattern basically around a model with his or her arms up in the air as they stand—while many other wetsuit brands cut the pattern like a regular business suit with arms down or maybe at an angle. The thinking is that if you assume the swimmer wants his or her arms to be extended out in front of them, you’ll take less energy (and feel less pull) during the recovery/extension/catch phase. With this in place, Roka can add more neoprene to the arms to add more float without fear of shoulder hindrance.

Roka Maverick MX Wetsuit: Does It Work??

In short, yes. This is BY FAR the floatiest wetsuit I’ve ever tested, by a large amount. The only other wetsuit I’ve tried that was above-and-beyond floaty is actually one of my all-time favorites, HUUB’s Brownlee Agilis. If you don’t have time to check out the video review, the idea behind the Agilis is that you can effectively stop kicking and almost use the wetsuit like a pull buoy. The MX has the exact same effect. The MX is so floaty in fact, that if you stop swimming and position yourself vertically, the wetsuit will actually draw you into a horizontal position and cause you to bob up like someone treading water in the Dead Sea. While swimming, my feet and back would actually rise up out of the water (your mileage may vary here, depending on your size/shape/density). And I’m not the only one, another tester—who is one of the best open-water swimmers possibly in the world—agreed that she felt the floatation effect in a very pronounced way.

Roka Maverick MX Wetsuit: What About The Rest?

That said, this is one of those concepts that if it was so perfect, why wouldn’t all wetsuits be like this? Roka’s “arms up” pattern helps a lot in eliminating that tugging you’d get during the recovery phase of your stroke with thick neoprene, but there are some side effects: When putting this on (which isn’t the easiest, by the way, but that doesn’t really matter) I noticed a weird bunching under the armpits. This is a result of standing with my arms at my side in something that’s meant to be worn with your arms effectively above your head. Because of the thicker neoprene here, the bunching can actually cause a little bit of friction as you swim, but that’s not exactly a dealbreaker. This doesn’t happen in Roka’s other, more expensive, wetsuits with the “arms up” design because there’s thinner neoprene in the shoulders/arms, so there’s less material to bunch up.

While I never felt any tugging through the recovery or extension phase of my stroke, sadly I did feel tugging in the final push phase as my hand made its way past my hip and out of the water. Just like anything, you plug a hole in one place, another pops up: The arms up design is great when your arms are up, but not so much when your arms are down. My best guess is that since the initial catch phase at the front of one’s stroke is more important (and more difficult) than the final push phase at the back of one’s stroke, it may be an ok tradeoff. And while there was some pulling at the back of my stroke, I didn’t get noticeably fatigued—likely because we have more leverage at that phase of the stroke. But it’s still worth noting.

One positive that’s not necessarily unique to this model, but is worth talking about is Roka’s incredible neck closure system that held tighter—with no chafing—than almost any other suit tested. In fact, the whole zipper/flap system is excellent and didn’t allow any water in at all. On that same note, the thickness of this wetsuit makes it incredibly warm, which is another big bonus for those with either low body fat or an adverse reaction to cold water—just beware if temperatures climb.

Roka Maverick MX Wetsuit: Other Issues

While maximum floatation is great for a lot of swimmers, there are a few other downsides to this amount of thick, thick neoprene in a wetsuit. First, you need to be sure that you get the right size. This is a wetsuit that’s tough to get on and really binds around your body. While it never felt constrictive or suffocating to me, for someone who isn’t used to the way a wetsuit feels, it could feel a little claustrophobic (like a beginner). On that same note, it’s quite tough to take off, particularly around the hips and ankles (and it’s not just because I’ve eaten my way through a week’s worth of “safer at home” snacks in just two days). If this wetsuit doesn’t fit you just right, you might feel quite restricted. The only other issue that’s not really an issue per se is this wetsuit’s price tag. Though Roka is saying this is a great wetsuit for beginners (or maybe also for swimmers who still swim like beginners), at $500 this is absolutely not a beginner wetsuit. I hope no one doing their first or second tri feels like they need to get this “beginner” wetsuit just to be successful. That’s likely money that could be put elsewhere when you’re just starting out.

Roka Maverick MX Wetsuit: Conclusions, I’ve Got A Few

I definitely applaud Roka for breaking out of the mold and taking a chance on a wetsuit like the MX. I do actually think it can help a lot of swimmers get faster with almost no effort, feel safer in the water (this level of floatation almost acts as a safety device!), and feel more comfortable if you get cold easily. If you’re someone who knows that their biggest limiting factor, by far, is their body position underwater—whether it be dragging legs or just an overall “density issue”—then this is a great choice. If you want to limit your kicking but don’t want to spend $900 on the HUUB Agilis, this could also be a good choice. However, it’s worth noting that no wetsuit is perfect, and there are a few little factors to weigh in before forking over $500. That’s an amount of money that could be well-spent if you know floatation is an issue, and you don’t mind a little pulling in the rear phase of your stroke or tightness around your body.