And yes, I am more than well aware of the irony regarding me wearing a wetsuit named after a whale.
Let's face it: one of the toughest things about being a triathlete is the sheer volume of gear attached. Think about it: you have all of the gear for three different sports. It's no wonder why, when you look at USA Triathlon's figures, the average salary for a triathlete is a staggering $160,000. (Perhaps I should be re-thinking that whole "not using the law degree" thing. NAH.)
So, naturally, it's just a sheer slap in the face when it comes to having to pick up a wetsuit. They're expensive, for one, starting at a minimum of $200 and ranging upwards to the $1,000 pricepoint. Plus, the process for putting one on isn't conducive to the same fitting as for a pair of shoes; it is far more difficult than attempting to put three different pairs of sneakers on.
With that in mind, it's imperative for your retailer to be able to identify your body type, and attempt to match that to a particular wetsuit company. Once the general fit guidelines are established, then pricepoint and features can be discussed. It's similar to the process for a gait analysis; we aren't necessarily trying to establish the right company with it, but rather the right type of control device to offer underfoot. Then we can start getting into nuances.
As a retailer, I carry both Orca and Nineteen wetsuits. As a general guideline, Orca fits a very long and lean body type, whereas Nineteen has a bit more room through the shoulders and hips. FIT IS KING. Everything else that I will talk about in the course of my review comes in a suit that fits me. I can talk all day about technical features, and how nice they are, but unless this suit fits your body type, do not buy it.
As stated above, Orca has the classic "triathlete" frame in mind. Long and lean. So if you're a taller person whose bike tends to be on the long and low side, Orca might be in your wetsuit options.
Remember that this is supposed to fit snugly. A tight fit is imperative to your buoyancy. However, also remember that we need to have full range of motion through the shoulder joint. Therefore, what we need to see is a near second-skin fit, without it being so tight that it restricts the ability to effectively swim. The complaint that "I don't fit in a sleeved suit" is generally bunk. It just means you don't fit in a specific suit.
At 6'3", 153 lb., I squarely fit into the medium-tall suit from Orca. Weight, generally, will dictate wetsuit fit versus height. The best suit will hit both categories, but if you're stuck, look to weight. And if you get the suit on, and the shoulders are off? NEXT.
Rather than simply type out features, I'll let my video self due the talking:
Ah, yes, the important part.
In sum, the suit is extremely comfortable. Putting it on is a breeze after the first couple of uses, as you learn where you can pull the suit from. Also, wetsuits are much like sponges, and become a bit more flexible with more use. Therefore, it will fit slightly larger than the suit you tried on in the store.
The Hydro-Dome panels work. There's no two cents about this. If you properly get your head down when swimming and exhale underwater, the panels will float your hips and calves upward. No more swimming uphill! In other words, if you find that your pull buoy swim times and open swim times are the same, you'll be flat out faster in this suit.
The textured forearm panels help grab onto a bit more water, particularly through the back end of the pull and into the recovery phase of the swim stroke. There is another panel on the forearm, to help promote buoyancy of the arm. Essentially, the suit wants to help you get a full pull, and help get you to early vertical forearm. (EVF is essentially creating that large paddle out of your forearm to help move more water. Couple that with the textured panel, and you should be able to really grab some water during the pull.)
Taking the suit off is pretty simple. One thing to watch for is grabbing the shoulder panel when stripping. This is the thinnest part of the suit, so be gentle. Once off the shoulder and into the arms, try and pull from the arm panel instead. Including a short run uphill, I was able to T1 in 3:20 at Rev3 Quassy in the suit.
It's tough calling anything $400 a bargain. This is one of them, though. This is a suit that will help you swim faster, right now, no questions asked. If this suit fits you, do yourself a favor and snag one. I can't stop raving about it.