It appears that the goal is to have a creation that is thinner and faster, but still as warm as a West wetsuits with thicker construction.
In the early days of triathlon the races were few and far between. To make matters worse, in many areas with water temperatures that hovered around 60 degrees Fahrenheit it was a challenge for many triathletes just to avoid hypothermia. There simply were no wetsuits back then except perhaps for the early “Farmer John” type that did nothing at all to keep a person warmer, which begs the question, “what exactly did they do”?
Of course a person could always buy a “dry-suit” –that would be impossibly heavy and hot– at a dive shop, but it would be years before the real triathlon “wetsuits” were available to all triathletes regardless of where they lived.
For the Canadian triathlete, it was pretty much almost a certainty that hypothermia was going to rear its head in any triathlon swim leg in Canada back in the eighties unless the race happened to be on the West Coast. The severity of the hypothermia often depended on actual swimming ability of the triathlete. The better a triathlete could swim back then, the sooner the swim leg would be over so it was a simple matter of those whoever got out of the water the soonest were less likely to suffer from the cold as much.
If a triathlete did not have an energy-saving stroke it was often difficult to retain enough co-ordination once out of the water to be able to climb on a bike. It was not unusual for it to take ten minutes or more for a triathlete to warm up enough to be able to cycle at all. Some of the early triathletes reached the danger point of hypothermia and were often unable to carry on in the race at all.
The wetsuit was born in the mid to late eighties and began to evolve at a quick pace in the decades to follow. Every single year you could pretty much be guaranteed that a new improved wetsuit would be on the market. Often the new wetsuits came with the promise that it would make you a faster swimmer then ever before.
This philosophy of “faster is better” really sucked people in because they had yet to figure out how little importance swim time really has on the end result of an Ironman. This is especially true of age-groupers who simply want to finish the race any way they can. Still, many triathletes were sucked in over and over again and could spend a few thousand dollars on wetsuits over a career.
Unfortunately, it would take years for some triathletes to figure out that swimming faster is not the secret to a successful Ironman. Real success is realized when emphasis is placed on finishing the swim leg of an Ironman with as little energy loss as possible. In reality, success in an Ironman has very little to do with the thickness of a wetsuit, how seamless the stitching, or how stretchy the armpits are.
Ultimately, the most important feature of a wetsuit for the average age-group triathlete or novice Ironman is the protection it provides from the cold. It is of paramount importance to always keep in mind that if you burn yourself out from the swim because you lack a smooth, energy-saving stroke you will most likely be part of the Ironman “death march”.
For the beginner triathlete or novice Ironman, the goal should be to get through the swim with as little discomfort as possible and with as little mental, emotional, and physical stress as possible. Any type of stress has a way of contributing to the loss energy that will without a doubt be desperately need later on in the race. This is most especially true to the Ironman because of the sheer distance of the race.