Friday, June 5, 2015

Adventures in Wetsuit Shopping

Over the weekend, I posted this photo on Facebook.

With this comment added, of course:

Yes, it's true.  I sweat like a pig putting that damn thing on.  I had to grab a towel at the halfway point, in fact.  Getting into one of these stupid things is no joke.

Ok, ok.  What's even more true, though, is the fact that I've purchased a wetsuit with the intention of beginning open water swim training.  Ever since Ironman last year, I've been thinking about forcing myself forward with swimming despite my fears, and Tri-U-Mah proved that I can do it.  So, I've got my eye on a few potential Tri races later this summer.  But of course that means getting in some open water swimming practice first.

Now, before I get too far, you might be wondering why a newbie like me is even wasting money on a wet suit.  And it's true, I did debate for a long time if it was really worth it or not.  But I finally came to the realization that if I'm going to face my swimming fears, they're not going to just go away after one training swim.  And I'm going to have to start swimming soon if I want to be mentally ready for any race later this summer.  Which means ... getting into the water ASAP, despite the fact that it's in the low to mid 60s in most of MN and WI right now.

Brr!  Wetsuit it is!

So, now that we've got that explanation out of the way, I'd like to get on with why I'm actually writing this blog today - to recap my adventures in wetsuit shopping.  Or, my affectionate alternate title for this blog, which is:

Wetsuit Shopping for Fatties 101

Now, don't get me wrong.  Using the above title, I'm not trying to get down on myself or anyone else, despite the fact that I've openly admitted to everyone that I'm carrying more weight these days than I'd like.  I'm using the above title because, seriously, have you ever tried to shop for tri shit?!  It's ridiculous!!

Here's why I say this. 

No.  Wait. 

Actually, let me recap my shopping experience.  Then it will make more sense.


Act One - Natalie discovers local swimwear shop is having a wetsuit sale.  All old rental suits are priced to MOVE. 

Natalie (thinking to self): Perfect!  I don't care if I get a crappy suit.  Who knows if I'll like this or not, anyway, so may as well start with a cheapie and then upgrade later if I decide to stick with it.

Shop keeper 1: Hi, can I help you?

Natalie: Yes, I'm interested in your used wetsuits here.  Can you tell me how wetsuit shopping works?  I've never done this before.

Shop keeper 1: Oh.  Yeah.  (Unenthusiastic.)  Look at that sign there and figure out your size based on your height and weight, and then just grab whatever suit fits your size.

Natalie: Uh ... ok.  But I was looking at the sizing sign, and it says that in women's suits I'm well above the largest size by weight.  So that's what I was wanting to ask you - shouldn't I get into a men's suit?

**Actual sizing chart from TYR wetsuits for reference:

Shop keeper 1: No.  See, look, it says 163+ (points at sign).  There's a plus.  You'll be fine.  Here, take this suit and go try it on.  (Grabs a women's XL off shelf, throws it towards Natalie, walks away).

Natalie: (Thinking to self)  Uh ... what?  These sizes are all in ranges of like 5-10 pounds.  Even at 163+, I can't imagine the suit would fit someone more than 173 pounds.  I'm definitely over that.  Whatever, these people are the experts ... right?  I guess I'll give this a shot.

(10 minutes later.  Natalie is profusely sweating in the fitting room and has managed to get the wetsuit to about calf height on each leg.  Much grunting and cursing ensues.  Several times, the rubber exterior rubs against itself and makes strange, farting like noises.  Eventually, Natalie starts to feel tingling in her legs and wonders if the suit is cutting off circulation.  After five more minutes of fighting and still not getting the suit above knee height, frustrated, she peels off the suit and heads back out into the main store area to help herself to a men's suit in her weight size instead.  As Natalie leaves the fitting room, a woman helping her teen in the next room over refuses to make eye contact with Natalie based on her disheveled appearance and the odd sounds that had been coming out of her fitting room.)

Natalie, to Shop keeper 2:  So, uh ... can you tell me something about wetsuits?

Shop keeper 2: Why, you don't want that one?

Natalie:  Well, considering I couldn't even get it on, no.

Shop keeper 2:  (Eyes the sweat dribbling down Natalie's forehead)  Well, they're supposed to be tight.  You're going to get a little sweaty getting these on.  That's normal.

Natalie: (Highly doubts Shop keeper 2 has ever put on a suit, as she is even larger than Natalie is, and she does not seem to appreciate the struggle.)  I know, I get that these go on snug.  But I can't even get that one on.  So, tell me the difference between men's and women's suits, because ... let's be honest, I'm 20-30 pounds+ over the 163+ the women's XL suit allows for, and I'm pretty sure I'm not going to fit a women's XL suit based on that.

Shop keeper 2: Well, the women's ones are cut differently.  So you kind of have to get a women's suit.

Natalie: Can I just try a men's one made for my weight to see how it fits?

Shop keeper 2: Yeah, I guess.  (Sarcastic look).  What size do you think you are in men's?

Natalie:  Based on this size chart (points), I should be a L.

**Actual sizing chart from TYR wetsuits for reference:

May I point out that the men's XXL maxes out at 223 pounds? 
That' is NOT very much!  What the heck do larger men who tri do?!

Shop keeper 2:  Well, we don't have in men's L.  Here, try the next size down, a M/L.

Natalie: (Thinking to self)  Are you freaking kidding me?!  That thing is the same damn size as the women's XL.  Whatever, maybe it's cut different and will fit.  I'll try it and see.

(After realizing the suit fits pretty much the same as the women's one she had on previously, Natalie spends less than 5 minutes struggling with the second suit.  Using common sense, she figures that she should find a store with a suit in stock for her size/weight.  She returns the men's suit to the rack and walks out of the store frustrated, proceeding to sit in her car with the air conditioning blowing directly at her face to help her cool off post wetsuit wrestling match.  Eventually, she pulls out of the parking lot.  The swim shop staff don't even notice she left the building and obviously offered no further assistance.)


Having had such a terrible experience wetsuit shopping, after I left the above swim shop, my enthusiasm for getting into tri racing started to wane a bit.   Not wanting to give up hope, after I got home to my own computer, I started googling things like "how do larger women find wetsuits" and "can women wear men's wetsuits", etc.

After perusing a few websites, I realized ... I am not alone!

As it turns out, there are dozens of blogs about there where people, both men and women, bemoan wetsuit shopping for the exact same reasons as me - that they are impossible to fit if you aren't a super fit and trim triathlete.

In the process of reading numerous blogs, including a few written by larger build women like myself, I ended up finding myself shopping at a website that people recommended as a rental service.  Imagine my surprise when I saw they offered BlueSeventy suits, and the women's sizes actually accommodated me!

Imagine my even further surprise when I realized they were having a super massive sale on last year's inventory, and I could buy a new suit for close to the same price as the used TYR suits I had tried on at the swim shop.  Score!!

Immediately, I put a BlueSeventy suit in my basket, and started looking for a men's suit for my husband (since he agreed he would swim with me, and wanted one as well). 

Uh-oh, another setback.  My husband is 6'2", and like myself, he is too heavy to "fit" according to the TYR chart.  I keep looking at all the options and size charts.  Eventually I stumble across a brand that I've never heard of, Synergy (ok, yes, I'm not exactly a wetsuit pro, so this doesn't mean much).  Hm ... their size chart looks promising:

And ... what?!  Their 2014 version Adrenaline suit, normally $399, is on clearance for $220?!  SOLD!!

I throw a second suit in my cart in my husbands size.  Then, on a whim, throw this same men's suit in my size in the cart as well.  I've decided I may want to compare the BlueSeventy to this suit. 

As I'm doing the comparison, I realize a hitch.  For some reason the BlueSeventy in my cart is displaying as a women's large ... and XL ... and large. 

Oh, technology!  I have ordered one wetsuit.  How are you telling me I'm getting it in three sizes?

Since I'm a little leery of this wetsuit seller's website anyway, being that I've never heard of them, I decide to call customer service.  I figure that they'll (1) be able to tell me what the heck is going on with this weird sizing issue on the BlueSeventy suit and (2) I can gauge whether or not I trust them enough to spend my money there prior to checking out.

Within seconds of calling them, I am immediately impressed.  Even with the few simple questions I'm asking, I can tell - this guy knows what he's talking about.  And based on what he's saying, he's very obviously worn a few of these wetsuits himself.  Not to mention, when he finds out my size and weight and realizes I'm shopping for a women's suit, he apologizes for the fact that women get the short end of the stick in the tri world when it comes to sizing.

He gets it.  He understands my struggle.  Compared to the swim shop, this level of service is absolutely awesome!

After a few more questions to him about the BlueSeventy versus the Synergy suit, and some general sizing questions, I decide to ditch the BlueSeventy and instead purchase the matching his and hers wetsuits.

Aw, won't that be cute?! 

I thank the customer service person for his time, hang up, and make my purchase online.

The next day, a small stock and size problem arises that requires me to switch the Adrenaline suit for Synergy's step down suit, the Endorphin.  While I'm disappointed to downgrade, in the end I figure a newbie like myself won't know the difference anyway, so I concede to the switch (with a price adjustment to match the cost of the lower end suit, of course).  To make up for my troubles, the shop includes some free swim caps and goggles for the two of us, and waives shipping.

Dang!  While this is a nice concession gift, I just purchased goggles and ear plugs literally minutes earlier.  I had realized my husband would probably need a jammer to wear under his wetsuit, and since I hate paying shipping, I filled up my shopping cart with a few other swim accessories as well.  Oh well, now we'll have a few spares.  I guess that won't hurt.

(Oh, side note - I also have issues with the idea of "stuff" touching my feet when I swim in the lake, so I purchased these swim socks off Amazon.)

Anyway, a few days later ... as you saw at the beginning of this blog ... the suit arrived.  If you're curious to see what it looks like, here are a couple full body views:

*For the privacy of my husband, I am not including photos of him in his wetsuit.  Sorry.

Overall, I'm very pleased with the fit of the suit.  Yes, I sweat getting it on, but ... I could actually get it on!  And dare I say ... it may be a tad on the large size.  Or, I could just be so traumatized by the ill fitting suit at the swim shop that I don't realize how a real wetsuit should fit.  I am technically on the top end of the weight spectrum for the suit I purchased, so I'm willing to bet it's the right one for me.

Anyway, so now ... we wait.  Hopefully, the weather will warm the lake water into the mid 60s soon, and I can take this baby for a swim.  Once that happens, I'll let you know what I think.

Wish me luck!

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