I never appreciated the complete disdain that wetsuits are held with by some members of the open water swimming community. When I was in Melbourne at Easter I was welcomed to swim with the Black Rock swimming gang but warned not to wear a wetsuit under any circumstances. The British Long Distance Swimming Association runs lots of swimming races over here but standard swimming costumes only are allowed (dick togs for the blokes). Of course the English Channel swims are only recognised if the same swim suit restrictions have been adhered to i.e. no cheating wetsuits.
Personally this doesn't greatly bother me, I'm faster in a wetsuit but not that much, and it certainly doesn't help me as much as the average triathlete. I would be more than happy if all my open water swimming races were non-wetsuit. This does however create an issue when I compete in a race that does allow the use of wetsuits. Do I succumb to the benefit of the wetsuit or take the high moral ground that wearing a wetsuit dilutes the achievement, it takes away from the purity of open water swimming, if you can wear a wetsuit, why not fins and paddles? This year I have swum all my races non-wetsuit. After all I am training for the channel and there's no point getting use to a wetsuit that I will not be able to wear on the big day.
Two weekends ago I swam in a 3.8km lake swim. I finished 4th, 15seconds off the podium and 2minutes behind 1st place. All three of the guys that finished ahead of me wore wetsuits (in fact so did about 195 of the 200 entrants). The extra 3-5 seconds I would gain per hundred metres would have lifted me into 1st or at least 2nd place (in fact the 2nd and 3rd placed swimmers I had beaten comfortably in a 1500m pool race the week before). I did have the satisfaction of knowing I had beaten the majority of the wetsuited field in my speedos, although a small (highly competitive) part of me would have been much happier with a podium finish.
So what happens after this channel swim is all done and dusted? Will I continue to race sans wetsuit or return to the fold and eliminate any advantage I am giving away? Personally I think the competitive edge will win out, I like the purity of non-wetsuit swimming but I like winning even more!