What It’s Like Owning a Wetsuit
I have been swimming in a lake in Northern California into November, and about a week ago it became clear the water was getting rather too cold to do this in just a bathing suit, so I ordered a wetsuit. I am skipping quickly over the part of the story where, a month ago, I ordered just a wetsuit top. This is exactly what it sounds like and kind of perplexed me, but the idea is that the sensitive upper part of your body is protected from the cold, even if your legs are like WTF, so you can keep swimming longer into the month. Anyway, I am glad the wetsuit top was too big around the wrists because I ended up ordering a whole wetsuit. During the week I waited for it to arrive the water went from mid 50s to mid low 50s. So at this point, I needed the whole entire wetsuit anyway.
I spoke to a nice woman on the phone at a place that specializes in wetsuits. I begged her to just tell me what to get, I didn’t want to think about it. I said to this lady, I am not trying to spend a lot but I am not trying to save money to freeze to death, if you know what I’m saying. I said I have a very large chest and my stomach is kind of fat right now to be perfectly honest but my wrists and ankles are apparently miniscule. As we assessed the limited selection together she explained to me that there was a wetsuit crisis going on. I asked if this was because everyone and their sister was out buying them because there was nothing to do except work or go outside and freeze to death swimming. She said no, it was because the supply chains were fucked up. (At least this is what I understood—she did not, however, use the word fuck.) She was helpful and together we picked out my whole outfit, a 4/3mm Women’s Body Glove Stellar B/Z (Backzip) Fullsuit, a pair of Akona socks and Bare 3mm Neoprene Hood.
The mm refers to the thickness of the wetsuit. So a 4/3 wetsuit is 4 mm thick in the torso and 3 mm in the arms and legs. This is the minimum thickness recommended for water 52–58 degrees. I don’t know what I will do when the water gets colder than 52 degrees? Maybe stop swimming? Seems sad, it’s the only fun thing I do right now, other than watch television, and that’s losing its charm.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The wetsuit fit perfectly, although the first time I tried it on I did it backwards. But I figured it out, and it works pretty well. Water seeps in a little at the wrists, but the water warms up while it’s trapped between the suit and your body. That’s the thing about wetsuits. They’re not waterproof. They’re just — helpful. And it is really helpful. My swimming buddy and I were only swimming for about 20 minutes when the water got to 58 or so. Now it is 54–55, and we have swum a whole half mile, which takes about 35 minutes, three days in a row.
That said, it does feel a little weird. The wetsuit makes you buoyant, which is nice in a way, but it makes your legs float up too much so that you have to fight to keep them below the surface of the water. And it’s stiff, though not too stiff to allow you to move, but definitely not the same feeling as an unencumbered body.
Getting the thing on is pretty easy. There’s a string on the zipper — always wondered what those things were about — so you can pull it up if you’re by yourself. Seems like you kind of need a buddy for the velcro closures around the neck, but since I swim with a friend every day (not swimming in water that cold alone, thanks!) I haven’t had to worry about it yet.
The biggest pain in the ass thing is getting it off. It takes me about ninety seconds to get one shoulder out of it, and then the top is easy, but I have to peel it off my legs and feet. The other day a bunch of women at the lake were having a little picnic outside, drinking tequila, and they were laughing out loud and pointing at me taking off my wetsuit. I don’t mind being laughed at, but I don’t like messing around with that thing, especially when it’s cold out.
So I just slip it off the top of my body and wear it home with the bottom part still on. I guess eventually my car will start to get disgusting. Oh well. I assume I have now entered something called wetsuit life and having a disgusting car is a part of this? And how the thing is always hulking around on the door near the heater, and you have to remember to dry both sides so it’s not all clammy when you put it on again. I guess it’s worth it all to be in a giant cold lake in late autumn with just one other person, the odd kayak, and all the birds.