Thursday, October 13, 2011

Be kind to our wetsuited friends …

We kid because we love, and we hope our wetsuited swimming friends accept the jest.

Besides, we "skin" swimmers are outnumbered three to one, so we trust wetsuiters can take a joke.

(Hey, some of my best friends wear wetsuits. A wetsuit even hangs in my closet, and I won't be too proud to wear it if someday a body of water I want to swim threatens to freeze me out, literally.)

This image emerged from a running conversation a few of us skin swimmers have. The swimmer is modeled after one of our fastest compatriots, Kathy Morlan; she'd probably say that doesn't look like her, or her technique, at all.

I don't go so far as some in the larger open-water swimming community, who denounce wetsuits as sanctioned cheating in races. The suits streamline swimmers and enable them to float higher in the water without their having to make a special effort toward balancing their bodies along the surface.

Wetsuits are de rigueur among triathletes, though I just can't shake the notion that a fast skin swimmer would have an advantage transitioning out of the water and onto a bike. Many would surely ridicule such a notion.

I recognize some people simply can't swim without wetsuits, because of their physiology (low body fat, predominant muscle mass, all those facets about which I am jealous); conversely, I acknowledge my physiology allows me to tolerate cold water. One wetsuiter patted my stomach and called that advantage "bioprene." (See? Funny!! I can take a joke! Hahahahahahahahaha!!!!!)

I'd much rather a swimmer wear a wetsuit (heck, wear two!) than miss out on the adventure of slipping through open water.

But I'm guessing many more wetsuiters can go without if they try. Simple planning and precaution is all, plus dismissing the automatic urge to squeeze into the confining rubber suit. (The constriction and restricted movement moved me to peel off my wetsuit as soon as possible.)

Taking time to spend progressively longer periods in the cold water helps. I've met many accomplished swimmers whom the cold water defeats because the swimmers, with hubris, determine that it's simply a matter of jumping in and swimming. Cold trumps technique, speed, experience. Cold conquers.

But slipping into the water for longer and longer periods fools the water, or fools the body into thinking the water can't defeat it. At that point it's not even a matter of swimming, just of getting used to the cold.

Sipping hot electrolytes before the swim helps (hot, snot-green Gatorade is my choice!), and a hot drink afterward doesn't hurt, especially during the colder seasons. Layers of warm clothes afterward also help.

Wanna try it? I'll swim with you 'til you get used to it. See you out on the lake.

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