There are things that are essential gear for a triathlete: goggles and swim cap, helmet and bike, running shoes.
Then there are things that are nice to have: aero helmets and disc wheels for the bike, compression calf sleeves for the run, and speedsuits (also called swimskins) for non-wetsuit swims.
As a member of Team MaccaX I benefit from a nice little discount on ROKA items off their website (rokasports.com), so I decided to get myself something special for Christmas last year: a ROKA Viper Elite swimskin.
The main function of a swimskin is to eliminate drag that would be caused by a tri suit. When it comes to long-course triathlon, the preferred tri suit is made of a top and a bottom, with pockets to hold nutrition. All these conspire to create drag in the water, so a swimskin is designed to compress the tri suit (and the triathlete’s body, hehe) so there’s less drag. A swimskin is made of fabric and is coated with water-repellent material to keep it from absorbing too much water and becoming heavy. This is unlike wetsuits, which are made of rubber and neoprene to lift the body in the water and keep it warm.
Swimskins are legal for Challenge and World Triathlon Corporation (5150 and Ironman) races, but they aren’t allowed at ITU-sanctioned events (like the Asian Triathlon Cup Subic Bay or the NAGT races). It’s always best to check with the race organization so you don’t risk being disqualified in your effort to gain a new personal best on the swim leg. Yikes!
The ROKA website has a great chart which allowed me to select the right size without fitting it in store because they don’t have a Philippine presence, but in case of problems in sizing they have a 30-day return policy. (You’ll just have to worry about shipping it back to them, though…)
I had my swimskin delivered to a USA address thanks to Globe’s GCash American Express Virtual Pay service. Once delivered there, I pay a fee to have it forwarded direct to my doorstep here in Manila. This allows me to save money on international courier services, which are pricey for this part of the world.
The ROKA Viper Elite swimskin comes with a drawstring mesh bag for easy carrying.
It’s a sleek black design cut high on the shoulders and goes down to the skinny part of my thighs. The logo is made from rubberized paint and there are a few other flourishes that make it look like it means business:
Take note, this isn’t a swimsuit that can be worn by itself, so when I use it I either have my trisuit on underneath, or a two-piece bikini. The ROKA website actually warns that it can be see-through under certain lighting!
The zipper goes up the back. With the zipper tab flipped up it zips up or down very easily; flip down the tab and it locks in place.
Because I have flexible shoulders I can zip myself up, but most people will want to ask someone to help them. Coming out of the swimskin is a snap though; just flip the zipper tab up and you can easily pull the suit apart at the shoulders. (Just don’t forget to take the suit off, like I did at Challenge Philippines!)
The Viper Elite is made of separate pieces for a good fit, but its seams are reinforced and lined on the inside, so it’s built strong for multiple uses and there’s less chance of chafing.
OK so I’ve taken you through how the suit looks. Now, in the water, it feels fast, like I’m actually slipping through with more ease. Whether it’s the suit compression making me keep better posture in the water, or making me smaller so I create less drag, it’s a great feeling that just spurs you to swim faster.
I don’t have the best swim form out there, but I did find that I slashed off 12 seconds per 100 meters during the Challenge Philippines swim while wearing the Viper Elite (versus last year’s non-swimskin time). So yes it’s awesome to swim with. It’s comfortable and reminds me to keep good form, and that really helps a lot. I won’t discount that there’s probably a placebo effect there as well.
My next race doesn’t allow swimskins, so this just means I have to swim harder. (I’m also pondering whether to order a one-piece trisuit without pockets.) But one thing’s for sure: for Challenge Camsur and Ironman 70.3 Philippines, I’m definitely wearing my ROKA swimskin.