Add Speed with SPEEDO
With Speedo being one the world’s oldest and best-known brands of swimwear, not to mention one of Australia’s most famous brand names, you would think their wetsuits would be high on every Aussie triathlete’s radar. Yet oddly enough they barely get a look in when we are talking about triathlon wetsuits, and it’s not that they don’t have any. In fact, Speedo has three wetsuits to choose from ranging from the $300 entry level Proton to the $450 mid-level Xenon, and all the way up to the wetsuit we tested, the Photon at $850.
With that rich a history in swimming, you expect Speedo to produce a decent product. Certainly, they have priced this suit to go head-to-head with the likes of the Orca 3.8 and Aquaman Bionic while being a bit cheaper than the likes of the Orca Predator, Aquaman ART, Blue Seventy Helix and 2XU Propel wetsuits. But interestingly, Speedo has taken a different tack than the other brands we mentioned. All of the above suits have adopted very thin arm and shoulders, which aid the flexibility and natural movement of the swim stroke but are also very prone to nicks in the material. The Speedo suit is similar in a way to the Entrix suit in that it has gone with a super flexible rubber in the torso and shoulders (the purple section on the women’s suit and the blue section on the men’s suit) where they have used the Yamamoto 40 neoprene. By creating the unique coloured panel shape, Speedo has achieved this super flexible and stretchy torso and shoulders – the suit just moves with your body. This has allowed for a thicker arm to be used without reducing the freedom of the swim stroke. From what we can work out, Yamamoto 39 neoprene has been used throughout the rest of the wetsuit. This gives a slightly more buoyant ride in the water and, especially in cooler waters, a warmer swim. The lower chest and abdomen area, and down into the thighs is where Speedo has used the thickest and most buoyant rubber, before thinning out into the lower leg area. The Photon suit also includes a panel of the thicker rubber through the lower section of the sides and wrapping around the hips.
This is their ‘Core stabiliser’ and it certainly gives you the feeling of extra support through that area. Nano SCS coating has been used over the suit as well, which is even slipperier than traditional SCS and, honestly, it makes getting this suit off an absolute breeze. If you saw the recent Bermuda ITU triathlon you’d realise just how important this can be.
As with most wetsuits nowadays, gone are the fancy bells and whistles that will give you ‘free’ speed and are really just marketing hype, and in their place are well thought out panelling to compliment the movement of the body in the water. There are, however, a few areas that are traditional ‘problem’ areas with wetsuits, especially the neck, where chaffing can be a serious issue, and the arm cuffs, which can often catch water if not fitted well. With the Speedo Photon wetsuit, the cuff issue has been well addressed with their ‘Super sealed cuff’. Essentially, just a small tapered piece of rubber on the end of the arm, but it works very well. The neck on the other hand, while very well sealed, hasn’t quite reduced the need for Pawpaw cream or Body Glide. It’s a low-neckline with a double-sided SCS coating, which certainly means that it doesn’t stick to your neck but there still seems to be a low level of rub. As Nadelle, our female tester, mentioned, she had had much better results from the high necklines found in suits like the Aquaman Gold. This isn’t a terrible thing; it just means you will still need some lube when using the Photon.
Now, it’s one thing to be good on dry land, which the Photon is, but it has got to be fast in the water too. What did Craig and Nadelle think of their suits?
Initial fitting of the suit can give us a great idea of how well the suit will perform in the water. As we’ve said in every other wetsuit article, if the suit fits well then it’s more likely to be faster in the water. Even lower quality suits that fit well will give better results than the best suit on the market that fits poorly. Now, the Photon went on very easily for both the bottom and top half, and didn’t require much manipulation before the first warm-up dip. We always like to submerge ourselves and get a little water between the skin and suit to help adjust tight areas like the arms and shoulders, but we found little need, as the Photon was so easy to position. This is great for two reasons, firstly it’s less tiring trying to inch a stubborn wetsuit to the correct position, and secondly, the more manipulation and pinching of a suit results in the higher likelihood of nicking the rubber, which is every athlete’s worst nightmare. The other thing to note was the reverse zipper, which we’ve come to like from one of our long-time favourites the Blue Seventy Helix, but that does require some assistance to do up if you’re not that flexible through the shoulders. The reason we prefer the zipper like this for ease of removal when tired. The zipper can be found more easily at the base of your back, and with one motion, pulled up until the zipper is undone while continuing to pull the cord will start removing one shoulder. If it saves a few seconds and precious energy then it can only be a positive.
As we like to do, the initial swim sessions were performed in open water to get the best feeling for how a suit will perform on race day. After the warm-up and first few harder efforts between poles the suit still felt extremely comfortable. The feeling of buoyancy matched most other high-end suits as did the general feeling of gliding easily through the water, but the thing that stood out was an almost complete lack of constriction that some suits can have after getting lots of blood flow to the shoulders. We would hazard a guess to say this was the most – ‘I don’t feel like I’m wearing a wetsuit’, wetsuit we’ve tested to date. As mentioned earlier, the decision for Speedo to go with a slightly thicker, yet more flexible, material in the arms and shoulders definitely pays dividends. While the “feel” for the water at the forearms might not match that of the super thin arms of Orca’s Predator, it certainly doesn’t detract from how well we felt we were swimming.
I usually am not a fan of lower necklines on wetsuits, as I find too much water can get in due to my body shape, but I had no issues at all with this suit letting in any extra water. However, the big plus for lower necklines, in our opinion, is they tend to feel less constrictive while breathing or, in our case, gasping during hard efforts. For those who have a tendency to panic a little with swim starts, or are sensitive to pressure at the neckline, this suit might be that confidence boost you need. Getting the suit off was also very easy and quick. While it doesn’t quite match the Aquaman Cell Gold in how quickly the rubber slides off, it certainly makes up for some of that time, with the how easily the zipper can be undone and the energy saved not having to fight less flexible neoprene.
With all of that said and done, we know you all want to hear how fast we think the suit is, right? So, using our ‘tried and true saltwater pool testing protocol’ we matched the Speedo Photon against our standard fastest suits, the tough 2XU Propel and the Blue Seventy Helix. From the get-go, we knew we were on a winner as the Photon testing almost as fast as the Helix (my best fitting and to date, my quickest suit) in the early 100’s, and almost identical to the Propel, but then also maintained the pace throughout the entire sets. Now, this is noteworthy as I’m not as swim-fit as I once was and times in the latter 100’s tend to drop off now that I’m old and somewhat slower, and our female tester, Nadelle, also found had the same experience. We think that the flexibility and comfort throughout the upper body that the Photon provides might allow athletes to reduce the effort exerted during the recovery phase and therefore conserve some energy, to help us swim more consistently through the session or race. Overall, times support this theory as we found times for Photon were the closest to the Helix that any suit has ever come and even pipped the bulletproof Propel.
We went into the testing of the Photon with very few expectations, as there is little information or knowledge about the suit, but we were ultimately extremely impressed by how well thought out the suit is and how it performed for us. We really struggled to find fault with the suit as even the slightly loud colours grew on us. From the great use of materials, with excellent fit quality to well thought out zipper and collar design, we think the Photon will suit a huge variety of triathletes and open water swimmers.