Orca Alpha Wetsuit Review

Orca has been cranking out great wetsuits for a few years, and at any race you will see a good representation of triathletes donned in their Orca suits.  The Orca Alpha is their top-of-the-line wetsuit, a great model topping off a solid top-to-bottom lineup.  The Alpha is popular, and for good reason.  Here, will give you the scoop on how the Alpha compares and our personal experience with it.

Orca began making triathlon-specific wetsuits in the mid-90’s, and since then has become one of the most reliable brands in all of triathlon.  The Alpha has long been at the top of their food chain, along with the 3.8.  The entire Orca Wetsuit lineup is at or near the top of its class in each category it represents.

At about $650, the Alpha fills a price point consistent with the high-end wetsuit from most major manufacturers lineups.  You won’t find Orcas on sale that often, and when you do it is generally a closeout from a prior year.  The Alpha sits at the top of the Orca wetsuit food chain, the other suits being the 3.8, Sonar, Equip, and S4.  Orca works closely with some of the top athletes in the world to get the Alpha just right, and it shows in the construction.  We are always impressed how Orca doesn’t rest on its laurels, and how they make very good wetsuits obsolete by developing even better technology than what many would consider very good already.  Orca has a history of raising its own bar.

This year, the Alpha uses what they call the Exocel Buoyancy System, Orca’s answer to the swim buoyancy and stabilization technology that is competitive in the higher-end wetsuits.  Orca says this technology is 25% better than the former top technology they used, the Aerodome, which was very effective in its own right.  This is a buoyancy that just might lead the industry, and is an example of how Orca doesn’t sit still even though the Aerodome technology was highly regarded.  It doesn’t sport as much of the buoyancy padding around the waist as the 3.8, which is what the 3.8 is known for.  As a result, you may find that your hips aren’t as high, but you are swimming in a much sleeker package.  If you feel you need the higher hip positioning and want to stick with Orca, take a good look at the 3.8.

The Orca Alpha’s pricing puts it in a range with the Blue Seventy Helix, QR Superfull, and Zoot Prophet.  For that pricing, you should expect excellent buoyancy, a very comfortable suit, and great range of motion throughout the shoulders.  You get all that in the Alpha.  We have yet to hear of triathletes who used the Alpha and were disappointed – quite a testament given how finicky triathletes can be.  Its pricing also makes it a logical choice for longer races, or perhaps those who want to save a “good” suit for their races.

Our own experience with the Alpha suggests that it lives up to the hype.  The fit is great and true to size, and the comfort throughout the wetsuit meets a high standard.  One of the main things we notice in the water is the range of motion throughout the shoulders.  Orca uses excellent, varied paneling around the shoulders to ensure free motion throughout the swim stroke, something you should expect in most high-end wetsuits.  The result is that you almost feel like you are swimming in a sleeveless suit, something that anyone who has used a cheaper wetsuit will know the benefit of.

Besides the overall construction and fit, the other thing that impressed us about the Alpha was the durability.  We didn’t experience any major nicks or cuts in the wetsuit, while some of the other suits in this price range are made so thinly that cuts and tears are almost commonplace.  We can’t be sure that it isn’t simply coincidence, and we just didn’t happen to put the wetsuit in a position to tear, but it is worth noting that it appears to have a high degree of durability.

The lineup of world-class triathletes and competitive ironman finishers who use the Alpha is impressive as well.  We don’t want to be in a “me too” position, and realize they may have paid sponsorships, but when you see that many top tier athletes aligning with one suit, it is worth taking note of.

In  short, we really like the Orca Alpha, and really like what they have done with this year’s model.  Adding the new buoyancy system should help it lead the pack of wetsuits, and if we were in the market for a high-end wetsuit, we would quickly narrow it down to the Alpha, perhaps the Blue Seventy Helix, and just one or two others.  It is a cut above and we don’t think anyone who buys it will walk away disappointed.  List price is over $650 but we are constantly on the lookout for discounts, and will post them on our deals page.

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