Orca Predator and 3.8 Wetsuits

Orca is synonymous with triathlon, and have been innovating and refining their triathlon-style suits since they began a quarter of a century ago. In 2017, the Orca graphics are gone and there are a lot more wetsuits to choose from – six in the triathlon range alone, including the Predator and the 3.8.

Orca’s triathlon wetsuits are split into three groups:

For this issue we tested the top suit in the Total Swimmer range, The Predator, and the top suit in the Progressive Swimmer range, the 3.8. Like many wetsuits currently on the market, these wetsuits have a lot of panels, all in strategic places aimed to enhance the swim experience, increase freedom of stroke and ultimately make you faster. The Predator has eight features throughout the suit while the 3.8 has seven. The main difference is the highly buoyant Aerodome dimpled neoprene, from industry heavyweights Yamamoto, that is placed in each suit, and the use of 0.88 neoprene in the arms, shoulders and upper back of the Predator – this gives incredible flexibility but at the expense of insulation. On the other hand, the 3.8 uses 1.5mm ’40 Cell’ neoprene in the sleeves, under the arms and across the back, which gives quite a bit more insulation while still being flexible. Importantly both suits use SCS coating, which helps the suits repel water on dry land and reduce resistance when in the water. They each have panels that work with the slippery SCS surface (called Nano Ice in the Predator and Hydrolite in the 3.8), which helps with ease of removal in transition.

Orca has outdone themselves with the packaging of their new wetsuits, which comes enclosed in its very own backpack. On opening the backpack we find white gloves, like the kind your mother-in-law makes you wear when looking at wedding photos, to protect the fragile neoprene, as well as foot covers to help the wetsuit slide effortlessly onto our legs, saving valuable time and energy.

THE PREDATOR
With super thin arms and Exolift panelling in the lower half of the suit, the Predator is striking. We were very wary of how fragile the 0.88mm neoprene would be, so donned the white gloves before unravelling the suit. To our surprise the arms, although thin, were robust. The suit was easy to get on with the aid of the gloves and booties, but more attention is needed with regard to fitting the firmer cuffs, which act to seal the arm to stop water getting in. The standard zip does up easily and the large Velcro neck closer caters for necks of varying sizes.

Once wet the first thing we noticed was that the 0.88mm feels like you’re not wearing sleeves, which isn’t necessarily ideal in pre-summer Melbourne water. But when the cold water of the bay started to warm a little throughout the suit, we found that the fit was really quite forgiving. The mandatory adjustment of the suit was easy as the shoulders have next to no resistance to full ranges of movement. So, even if the suit isn’t perfectly fitted, you’ll barely notice.

Swimming in the suit was easy, highlighting that when you’re not feeling restricted in any way you almost forget you’re in full-length rubber. Even after 20 minutes of continuous swimming the arms and shoulders felt no different compared to the beginning of the swim. The Exolift provides great buoyancy for the lower body, which became more evident throughout the swim as we settled into an easy two beat kick. We also felt well supported by the core panels (Core Lateral Stabiliser) that stabilise the torso by using a less flexible rubber.
This helps maintain a horizontal position and aids body roll through the stroke. Entering and exiting the water felt easy as well. The core panels don’t restrict wading and porpoising as the legs and hips remain flexible.

Simulating T1 efforts, focusing on removing the suit quickly is one of our standard tests to see if all of the good work in the water is negated by a time-consuming transition. The Predator does have one potential time wasting feature – the tight cuffs at the wrists. If you buy this suit we encourage you to practice removing the suit several times before your race. The legs come off as easy as any wetsuit, so full points there.

Overall the Predator is suited to a front-to-mid pack swimmer wanting unrestricted movement in the upper body, who is willing to give up a little buoyancy in that region to maximise buoyancy in the hips and legs. The thinner arms shouldn’t bother those in colder climates, but will be a winner in warmer regions. High-level swimmers without a really strong kick may prefer this suit to Orca’s other high-performance suit, the Alpha. At $1045 this suit is the top of the crop in Orca’s range. Mid-pack and newcomers to open water swimming may prefer the 3.8.

THE 3.8
Originally aimed at Ironman distance athletes, the aptly named 3.8 (i.e. 3.8km Ironman swim) is more than just a long distance suit – it has become the go-to suit for athletes without an efficient kick who still need flexibility in the shoulder region.

The 3.8 is packaged beautifully in the previously mentioned backpack, with added extras for safe and easy fitting. Visually it differs a bit from the Predator, most noticeably by having thicker arms and more even panelling. We found getting into the 3.8 a bit quicker than the Predator. The absence of the wrist cuff was a big part of the ease of fit, as the suit slides on the arms without much resistance. We did find that the suit required a little more adjustment when in the water but with only 1.5mm arms this process was still easy. The closure system resembles the other Orca suits and the neck region was quite comfortable throughout all of the test swims. The neck area is one aspect of suit technology that we’ve found has improved significantly over the years. You only really notice a badly fitting suit at the neck, so it’s worth noting that these suits are very well constructed. Similar to the Predator the Infinity Skin (internal lining of the suit) allows the suit to stretch and move freely against the body.

During the swim, we noticed a little more restriction in the arms compared with the Predator, but this is to be expected with 1.5mm versus 0.88mm rubber. The 3.8 is super mobile throughout the shoulders and designed to be more buoyant in that area. The general feeling of buoyancy was at least equivalent to the Predator. Overall, the 3.8 contains even more Exolift panelling than the Predator, assisting the weaker swimmer to remain more buoyant in the hips and legs. Interestingly the male and female suits have gender-specific differences with this feature. The Core Lateral Stabiliser works just as well in the 3.8, which ideally will benefit both those that fatigue more as a result of a less efficient stroke and those doing longer events.

Entering and exiting the water was similar to the Predator, and there wasn’t much difference in flexibility through the hips. Removing the 3.8 was an easier process than the Predator, given the lack of a wrist cuff. It slid off well and we put it up there with some of the best triathlon suits we’ve tried. Overall, we rate the 3.8 very high for those needing a little more support and buoyancy. At $780 it is a great price for those looking to maximise their bang-for-buck, with a suit that performs well over all distances.

The Predator and 3.8 are both fantastic in their own right. Just make sure you know what type of swimmer you are so you can maximise the benefit of the wetsuit you choose. Then it’s time to get out, get wet and set some PBs.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

TheTestLab

Craig McKenzie and Patrick Legge are The Test Lab. Two guys with an obsession for trialling all things related to swimming, riding and running and telling anyone who will listen what they think. Having 20 years each in the sport, they’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly, but always loved the innovation triathlon brings to the world stage. Craig raced as a professional triathlete, winning 4 National Duathlon titles, and has worked as an exercise physiologist, osteopath and coach, while Pat has built a career running a personal training, massage and coaching business, working with State, Australian and World Champions, including Australian Olympic and Commonwealth squads whilst competing himself.

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