Women in alpkit wetsuits preparing for a wild swim

Why i made the switch to a natural swimming wetsuit

Posted on: BY: Saga Svensson
Tags: natural swimming wetsuits | wetsuits | wild swimming

Amateur open water swimmer Audrey Sanchez explains what made her decide to switch to a ‘natural’ swimming wetsuit and why she’ll never go back.

Audrey Sanchez grew up pool swimming in Illinois. “Swimming was my life as a kid” says the 36 year old radiologist, “life revolved around training and swim meets. My best friends were at swim club, not school.”

But by her late teens, a bad coach and a negative body image caused Audrey to give up swimming altogether. She wouldn’t return for more than 15 years.

“I was walking past an outdoor pool and I caught a whiff of chlorine that took me back 20 years in an instant,” she says. “I was like: you used to love swimming; what happened?” 

Within a week, Audrey was enrolled in her local YMCA swimming laps once again. “It was tough at first. My body still remembered what it wanted to do, but there were no muscles where I used to have muscles. I completely overdid it the first session and had to take a week to recover. My whole body had turned to jelly!” 

In a few weeks Audrey was seeing the benefits of swimming several times a week. In the months that followed, her fitness improved and she was happier and more focused than she’d been for years. 

Audrey was invited to join an all-girls open water swimming group, ‘The Swimming League’ as it was informally known.

“It was a small group of girls my age and it seemed kind of radical.” She remarks. 

“I’d never done much open water swimming. Everything up to then had been in the pool pretty much.” 

All the girls had wetsuits. “You kind of need one if you are going to open water swim in Seattle.” So Audrey invested in a mid-range triathlon suit she got on sale. 

The Swimming League was life-changing. “I loved everything about our little adventures,” says Audrey.

“They organized outdoor swims at least once a week in the summer months. We shared books and articles about swimming and cooked up wild swimming adventures on Whatsapp through the week to distract ourselves from work” she laughs. 

Audrey’s wetsuit was great for a time and she did not regret spending the money. “It cost about $160 and I still have it after two years, so I don’t regret a thing. I had some wicked adventures in that suit.”

But she never felt as good swimming in her wetsuit as she did in the pool in the off-season or the few times a year that she swam without a suit. “In the pool I just slipped into my habitual body position. Muscle memory from years of drills, I guess. But in the wetsuit I felt like my legs and feet were super high. Like they were out of the water more than in the pool. I felt myself compensating and it threw everything off. 

“I wasn’t sure if it was because I was overcompensating or because of the pressure of the buoyancy, or what, but after a while in the suit my back would start to ache. I’d have to swim backstroke intermittently to relieve the aching.

“I would go without a wetsuit much earlier in the season just to avoid the discomfort and it was freezing,” she says. “People thought I was nuts. I thought all wetsuits felt like that, so I didn’t really investigate further. In hindsight I guess that was dumb.”

It was only when a new member, Sade, joined the Swimming League that Audrey realized that she was far from alone in feeling too buoyant in a triathlon wetsuit. “She had a similar body type to me and a similar swimming background. She’d been through the same frustrations as me in open water.

She had an Orca Alpha, what they call a ‘high performance’ or ‘natural swimming’ wetsuit and she told me it was like night and day. She was kind enough to trade suits with me one day so I could test drive.”

A man in front of a rugged cove, looking at the sea while wearing the Orca Alpha natural swimming wetsuit
The Orca Alpha natural swimming wetsuit

Audrey found Sade’s wetsuit immediately less restrictive, and best of all she was able to swim in her natural position. “I could swim without feeling as if my legs were flapping in the air. I felt like a fish!”  

Audrey now has a natural swimming wetsuit of her own, an Alpkit Terrapin that she adores. “I recommend a natural swimming wetsuit to anyone who has a technical swimming background. A lot of people are coming to open water swimming pretty green and the extra buoyancy is in most cases a good thing. But if you are very technical, you really just need the warmth and that’s it. Any extra buoyancy will likely throw you off.”

Read: What is a natural swimming wetsuit?

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