Last weekend I had the pleasure of escorting Cathy on a big, cold swim in San Francisco Bay to celebrate her birthday. We’re calling it the “Three Bridges” swim: She swam from the Third Street Bridge in McCovey Cove (the original location of the South End Rowing Club in 1873), under the Bay Bridge, and under the Golden Gate Bridge, before finishing at Kirby Cove on the Marin Headlands.
8.7 miles in 2 hours, 10 minutes (with a push from the ebb tide) in 51-degree water, without a wetsuit. It was a damn impressive, inspiring swim, and I’ve never seen Cathy swim so well. She seems totally at home in cold, rough water – and indeed she seems to thrive, the worse conditions become.
With El Sharko‘s steady hand at the tiller, I managed the feedings and aimed my GoPro:
Cathy’s “Three Bridges” SF Bay Swim: 3rd St, Bay Bridge, Golden Gate from Evan Morrison on Vimeo.…
Everyone knows wetsuits help keep you warm in cold water. Lesser known among the general public (but well-known among triathletes) is that wetsuits also make you swim faster! The buoyant neoprene in a wetsuit floats a swimmer higher in the water, decreasing drag and thus increasing swim speed.
But how much faster is a wetsuit? I’ve heard various rules of thumb: 10% speed increase; 4-6 seconds per 100m; 1 minute per kilometer. I’ve also heard various caveats: it depends on the swimmer’s skill (better swimmers benefit less); it depends on the swimmer’s body-type (naturally floaty people benefit less); it depends on the quality of the wetsuit (you get what you pay for); it depends on the fit of the wetsuit; and so forth.
So the answer is: It depends.…
One of the more popular long-distance open water races in the US is the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim. A 4.4-mile point-to-point swim across the bay and between the two spans of the Bay Bridge, the GCBS routinely sells out months in advance.
The 2012 GCBS was today. A couple friends were swimming, so I was browsing the results just now. And I was reminded of why I will never do this swim.
Here are the results. They probably don’t mean anything to you… but what if I told you that eight of the top ten finishers wore wetsuits! Yet the main results page doesn’t specify whether the swimmer was artificially assisted by neoprene. There’s a separate non-wetsuit results page – but it’s relegated to a separate link.…
A few more volleys in the debate, from:
First, thanks to Scott for the generous mention of my post from a few days ago.
In Dave’s response, he emphasizes maintaining a clear distinction between channel-rules swims and performance-enhanced (i.e., wetsuited) swims, but stops short of agreeing with Scott that wetsuited swimming “isn’t swimming.” An important question remains:
If wetsuited swimming is “swimming,” what specifically distinguishes it from channel-rules swimming, and how does this affect how we judge achievements in each category?…
See original post.
I think Gords makes an important point: that there’s a fine line between valuing the purity of “naked” open-water swimming, and self-righteousness. The latter alienates people, pushing them away when we should be welcoming them and trying to build our sport.
To be clear:
- This discussion is primarily about marathon swims - which I’ll define as swims long enough to require a support craft. In practice, this usually means swims longer than 10K. Swimmers who attempt such swims are – or should be – sufficiently skilled and experienced that drowning-prevention is not a valid excuse for using a wetsuit. (Hypothermia is a separate issue.)
- I have no problem with newcomers to open-water swimming utilizing wetsuit technology to ensure safety, to enhance comfort, and to develop confidence.
UPDATE 9/8/2011. Please read my follow-up post.
UPDATE 9/12/2011. Another follow-up.
“What’s Wrong with Marathon Swimming” is the title of a recent op-ed/essay/rant by Scott Zornig, president of the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association. Zornig’s piece, distributed through the SBCSA mailing list and Facebook page, has sparked some interesting discussion – but frankly, I haven’t heard many opposing voices. Shows who my friends are, I s’pose.
Three issues, basically, moved Scott to wield his poison pen:
- Wetsuits. Specifically, the use of them during marathon swims.
- Bootlegging – i.e., attempting a marathon swim without paying dues to the relevant governing body to have it officially observed and ratified.
- The misuse of the media. In particular, people who use the media to promote and glorify marathon “swims” in which traditionally accepted Channel Rules are not followed (e.g., wetsuits).