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Moving to the Dark Side

Leigh Davidson pictured also says "Thumbs up for the wetsuit"

Leigh Davidson pictured also says “Thumbs up for the wetsuit”

Nancy Shaw is a regular Tooting Bec Lido swimmer who has just been through a very thorough process in purchasing a wetsuit. She’s made a lot of good decisions on the way and learnt some good lessons. I asked Nancy if she would kindly share her wetsuit journey with our readers. Thank you Nancy. Ed

I am an Open Water Swimmer (plus many other things), I have swam competitively since age 5 (that’s 30 years ), pretty much all that time has been without a wetsuit apart from 3 years when I competed in triathlons at University. I have been a member of South London Swimming Club at Tooting Bec Lido for 10 years and have never worn a wetsuit in the Lido… until recently

I am training for a 7 mile lake swim quite early in the season (July 18th).  My 6am swims at the Lido started on the 3rd May – it was pretty ‘fresh’ many days and I struggled to build up my mileage, I started getting jealous when I saw swimmers in wetsuits enjoying their swims, coming out looking comparatively warm to me, swimming longer, being faster – I was jealous and frustrated that I couldn’t get my mileage up. After a few weeks I decided to explore the idea of investing in a wetsuit, I emailed Dan Abel, he had a very helpful response:

“The key is getting a wetsuit that is best for you not the best wetsuit if that make sense. I recommend trying Ocean Leisure near Waterloo as they have a good range. We all want a nice comfy wetsuit that doesn’t impact too much on shoulder flexibility or impinge the neck. The only way to know for sure is to try them on. Try the Huub Aura 3:3 women’s suit:


My research started; google searches, wiggle reviews, various wetsuit manufacturer website exploring particularly their technical data, triathlon and H2O magazine reviews, asking wetsuit-wearers at the Lido – some were very forthcoming answering my questions – thank you to them! A week of research I knew what I wanted to try on. I chose Sigma Sport shop in Kingston as I knew they had an option to try in a lake before you buy, wetsuit’s can be a big investment so I thought this would be a great opportunity to get the right one for me. Sigma Sport have specially trained wetsuit fitting staff, I turned up with my swimsuit and got fitting. I tried on the Huub Aura 3:3, Orca Sonar, 2XU Z1 and Zone 3 Aspire – all ladies suits which is fantastic range to choose from all varying prices too and they had many more. The Zone 3 Aspire felt the best fit for me,  I asked them if they could bring a Large (which felt more comfortable on) and a medium to Shepperton Lake for me to try on in the water.

Saturday morning came, at Shepperton Lake, I paid my £10 deposit (refundable if you buy a suit) put on the Zone 3 Aspire wetsuit Large and off I went. Within swimming 200m I knew it was far too big. I did a lap (750m), go out & swapped it for an Orca Sonar Large, again too big, water was billowing all around my upper body, it was such a drag, I then tried on a Huub – too tight on my neck, finally I went for the Zone 3 Aspire medium – this fitted perfectly but I wasn’t convinced, did I ‘REALLY’ need a wetsuit? So I did a lap without…oh my goodness, I nearly drowned, amazingly I had already got used to the buoyancy that the wetsuit provided and I found it really hard to move my arms – it was a very odd feeling, by the end of the lap I starting to feel cold. I realised that if I wanted to do this 7mile swim well and comfortably I needed the Zone 3 Aspire wetsuit – I got out and bought it!


Dan Abel and Sigma Sport have been a huge support , enabling me to buy a wetsuit that fits well and enhances my swimming performance. This is an email I sent to Dan after my first training session at the Lido in my wetsuit:

“We had training last night at the lido, at the end of the session I swam a 300yd time trial to see how fast I could swim wearing my new wetsuit! On Sunday I swam flat out, managing 3:50, I was nearly sick at the end…last night after 50mins training in the suit, I managed 3:24 – a whole 26 seconds faster over 300yds, that’s almost 9 seconds a length/100yds – that is nuts! I went fast but wasn’t feeling sick at the end so I think I had a little more in me!…I cannot believe it, cannot believe it. So I now need to build how long I can wear a wetsuit for, it was hard for 1hour last night..”

Last weekend I swam the 3.8km Seahorse race in my wetsuit, I did it in 51:08, coming 3rd overall, 1st women and 7mins ahead of Brian Daly who normally would beat me – so the wetsuit is a great swimming aid! It keeps you lovely and warm, buoyant and saves years of training to reduce your times (OK that is cheating, but how else could you legally drop 26seconds over 1 week?)! The only issue I have had is that I didn’t grease up enough around my neck, sadly my neck got ripped to shreds in the salty sea water from the friction caused by the wetsuit. I had a pretty awful few days after, it has taken a week to repair…just in time for my 7miles this Saturday…watch this space!

Nancy Shaw


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