As of January 1, 2013, the USA Triathlon governing body (USAT) has a new wetsuit rule for all USAT-sanctioned races. If you are a triathlete or race director, it will be important to understand how this new rule affects you.
The new rule is pretty simple: No wetsuit worn can have a thickness of more than 5mm on any part. That means that a wetsuit used in a USAT-governed race has to have a max thickness of 5mm, and any wetsuit with a greater thickness cannot be used or it will disqualify the racer. This further clarifies the USAT’s rules around wetsuits, which also includes a series of regulations around water temperature (wetsuits can be used up to 78 degrees, point scoring implications may occur between 78 and 84, and wetsuits are not to be used above 84 degrees.)
So What Does the New Wetsuit Rule Mean to You?
So what does the new USAT wetsuit rule mean to you? It could mean a few things, depending on the types of races you do and how competitive you intend to be. Here is an overview of how the new rule affects the typical triathlete and what you need to know.
The Majority of Wetsuits Already Comply With the New Thickness Rule. Wetsuits that are made by trusted triathlon gear makers, especially in recent years, are probably just fine to continue using. Big Tri names such as Blue Seventy, Xterra, Orca, TYR, Quintana Roo, Zoot, and others having been building wetsuits with a max thickness of 5mm for several years. Most of these wetsuits have varied paneling, with thickness ranging from 1 or 2mm on thin parts to 5mm on the thickest parts. As a result, many race directors will likely consider wetsuits made by these brands to be compliant.
Because of the lack of specs and information available going back more than three or four years, it is difficult for us to verify that older models of these brands suits comply with the rule. They very well may, but for many makers the specs for those older suits are long gone. If you have a question about your suit, you may want to contact the manufacturer, or, if your wetsuit is due for a replacement, get a newer model that is known to be in compliance.
The Wetsuits Most at Risk of Not Being Compliant Are Designed for General Use Instead of Being Tri-Specific. Many wetsuits on the market today are made for general water use, such as surfing, scuba, cold-water jetskiing, and the like. These wetsuits often times make it into the hands of newer triathletes, as they are less expensive and can be found on Ebay for a fraction of the price of a triathlon-specific wetsuit. While we do not want to throw any brands under the bus, some makers who make wetsuits thicker than 5mm are Neosport, Body Glove, and Tilos, among others. We should stress that not all wetsuits by these makers are 6mm or thicker, and in fact a maker like Neosport has several models that are fully compliant and can be used in triathlon.
For those brands that might have some stock thicker than 6mm, we recommend carefully reading the manufacturer’s specs before buying.
Some Races Won’t Enforce the Rule. High profile races, or those that are part of a USAT race series are more likely to enforce the rule beginning immediately. We spoke to several race directors whose races are sanctioned by USAT, and they will rely on USAT officials to enforce the rule. Other race directors who run community-based races that are not necessarily part of a USAT circuit indicated that they will not necessarily enforce the rule for their racers, especially considering that many first-timers in these races are borrowing suits or buying discounted wetsuits and they don’t want this rule to be a barrier to entry.
Wetsuit Rentals Might Become a Valuable Option. For a newbie who does not want to invest in a high-end suit, renting a wetsuit might be a great way to ensure your wetsuit is compliant and made by a tri-specific wetsuit maker. For about $60, you can have a top-quality wetsuit for a week or so around your event, all shipped to your door. At www.wetsuitrental.com, you can use our code (TWSWR) for a free 2nd week, giving you more time to practice and get used to the wetsuit before your race.
In short, the new wetsuit rule should not affect many triathletes, as most racers are using the tried-and-true triathlon brands, or are racing in smaller community races that may not aggressively enforce the regulation. For those who are doing competitive USAT circuit races, or who simply want to not have any question about compliance, you may want check with your wetsuit manufacturer or invest in a newer wetsuit whose specs are clearly within the limitations.