It seems to be the age old debate among open water swimmers: to wetsuit, or not to wetsuit. Recently the debate has heated up with an article titled "What's Wrong With Marathon Swimming" by Scott Zornig, president of the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association.
In his article he states: "with the rare exception (i.e., disabled swimmers), wetsuits do not belong in the sport of marathon or endurance swimming. They should be limited to triathlons and special circumstances."
He concludes with this: "You would not enter a triathlon with a motorized bicycle….You would not play baseball with a corked bat ….You would not play golf with a loaded ball…You would not run in a marathon with roller skates. Therefore, please don’t use a wetsuit in marathon swimming. It provides an unfair advantage and goes against the spirit of our sport."
Since this article came out, other swimmers have posted their thoughts on the debate. Here are a couple from blogs that I follow:
Now for my two cents...
You would have a hard time finding someone who did not believe that wearing a wetsuit provides and advantage in speed, warmth and buoyancy. The issue, I think, is in making a distinction between triathlons that are held in open water venues, open water swimming races and marathon swims and their rules regarding the use of wetsuits.
Triathlon allows the use of wetsuits within a certain range of water temperatures, and actually requires them when the water dips below a certain temperature. Since wetsuits are legal in triathlon and you actually put yourself at a disadvantage if you do not wear one, it is easy to see why the vast majority of triathletes wear wetsuits. I found my way into open water swimming through participating in triathlon and I think this is true for many other swimmers. For this reason, wetsuits are often carried over into open water swimming races.
There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of open water swimming races all over the world ranging from short cold water swims to marathon distances. Rules at these races are as varied as the number of events and are often determined by the organization providing sanctioning for the event. Many of these races offer both wetsuit and non-wetsuit divisions to try to entice more swimmers to participate. In this case, the results for each division should be kept separate with separate awards are given to both divisions.
Regardless of the sport, if you want your time to "count" and be officially recognized, you need to follow the rules of that sport / organization / race. Beyond that, it is just a matter of personal opinion and preference. Personally, I choose not to wear a wetsuit unless I am participating in a triathlon. I could outline my reasons for leaving the rubber behind, but I don't think it is my job to convince people to ditch their wetsuits or to look down on them if they don't.
In the end, if wearing a wetsuit will get more people to try the great sport of open water swimming, I am all for it. Now what do you think?