Product Review: BlueSeventy Helix FS (full suit) and Neoprene Cap
Boy, we must have been really suffering a serious case of the February "blahs"! Be forewarned: the actions described in this article may not be endorsed by the Running Fit establishment (or any sane person, for that matter). But we did it, and we're tougher for it! And what, this "It"? Why, going swimming in the Huron River, of course! Thirty five degrees--no problem!
The Swim. Yes, it was very very cold and we were really questioning our judgement at some points! I wanted to do a river swim in early March for several reasons: one, I'd never done an open water swim this early in the season and two, I'd never owned a full wetsuit before. I have always been a big fan of BlueSeventy products. I wear BlueSeventy goggles (several different styles) and I swear by my neoprene cap for cold water. But I've never been a "wetsuit" swimmer. I thought wetsuits were for wimps. I had yet to put one on that wasn't terribly uncomfortable and made me float in weird ways. This is a big adjustment for most competitive swimmers who are or have been at the elite level: it just doesn't "feel right" , and feel is such a huge part of fast swimming. Floating in "weird ways" is not something that we enjoy or hope to experience!
So it was with a certain degree of trepidation that I decided to order the BlueSeventy Helix, their top-of-the-line full suit, list price: $640.00. That in itself was frightening, even with my company discount! Plus I hadn't tried one on, let alone even seen one, so I really didn't know what to expect.
The suit arrived in a small flat-ish box, much smaller than I expected, considering its claims to keep me warm to 50 degrees (note: there are many variables that affect warmth!). I opened the box and pulled out my new "baby", and was immediately impressed. It was beautiful, for one. The seams and stitching were all first-rate and the suit obviously well crafted. The combination of sleek neoprene in different thicknesses and rich colors along with the suit's advanced technical features really made for a tough appearance. I liked that. I read the info card that came with it but was already familiar with all it's "features" (I won't repeat them here but they may be found at www.blueseventy.com). I cared most about just a few things: would the suit be comfortable? would it make me "float weird"? would I have full range of motion in my upper body? would it keep me warm?
I decided to test the suit along with my BS (BlueSeventy) neoprene cap, with latex cap on top for visibility and added warmth, BS swim socks and New Balance Minimus Trail shoes over the socks. My thought with the shoes was to help hold in any warm water that migrated to the socks and to provide traction getting in and out of the water. I also planned to take a mile or so jog--in my wetsuit--after the swim, to ward off the usual post-swim hypothermia. My windsurf gloves I should have left at home with their leaky friends, but I thought they would help (they didn't!).
I put the suit on at work so I could drive in it to the river. What a delightful surprise to find how comfortable it was! I was truly amazed, and these days it can take a lot to amaze me. I was able to get it on very easily by myself, although I needed help fastening the top-to-bottom separating zipper. I tried hard to do this myself and couldn't, so this is one thing to consider if you get this suit: unless you are Gumby you will need help zipping it! But once zipped it was like a second skin. I could move in every way I could think of with no bunching, binding, pulling or discomfort. Particularly doing "swimming" movements, it was like the suit was made for me. But how would it perform in the water? Would I bob like an out of control cork in a whirlpool? Would it keep me warm?
My new suit kept me nice and toasty on the slightly anxiety-ridden drive to the river. Even while driving it was perfectly comfortable, with no binding or choking. I arrived and Chris and I got ready fairly quickly. The thermometer showed 35 degrees--too much lolly-gagging and either of us was likely to head for the parking lot!
Entering water this deadly cold is a profound experience. One vacillates between "WOW!! This is NUTS! Let's can it!!" and "We can do this. C'mon. We're tough, we can do this. . . " 35 degrees really is wicked cold. It seems to burn exposed skin like fire. Certainly like frostbite! At any rate, it's painful and takes a lot of personal mental gamesmanship to take that first plunge. And even for several minutes after that, it takes a while for faces, hands and feet to go numb and no longer scream for relief. So this is what I was thinking as I left Chris behind and stroked quickly upstream. It was difficult to think too much about the suit's comfort at that point because so much of my focus was on the extreme discomfort in my exposed extremities!
But eventually that lessened and I was able to turn my attention to the suit. Wow, again! I found that it leaked/flushed very little. I could stroke normally and comfortably and actually felt good! There was just the right amount of material under the arms: enough for free movement but not too much that it bunched. My arms did not feel "heavy" at all and the special fabric under the forearms did actually allow me to feel the water, as promised. The "weird floating" problem that I was concerned about was a non-issue. My body position felt great. (this suit is intentionally "neutrally buoyant", and specifically designed for more skilled swimmers). As far as warmth, it did a pretty good job considering we were swimming at 15 degrees below its lowest temperature rating. I swam for just under twenty minutes and yes--hypothermia was setting in. However I have had much experience with this and I can say confidently that "it wasn't that bad" and that the Helix played a large role in preserving my core body temperature.
So since I need to wrap this up, in sum I give the Helix an A+ for its first trial! I can't wait to try it in slightly warmer waters and in race conditions. I'm ecstatically pleased with this purchase, not just because of the Helix's excellent quality and performance but because I have now extended my open water season--my passion--by probably four months, or more.
The Blueseventy Helix is available by special order at Running Fit (as are all our wetsuits). We have a good selection in stock right now to try on too. It's time to start thinking about it! And you don't need to spend $640. There are some excellent suits in the $2-300.00 range as well. Hope to see you March 19 at our Triathlon Expo! (it's Free! Click on Events, above).
All Photos by Paul Fulton
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