By Tom Demerly for TriSports.com.
It’s standard logic that if you want a product to perform differently, it has to be designed differently. The De Soto T1 First Wave wetsuit is designed differently from one-piece wetsuits since it uses a separate top and bottom, effectively a “shirt” and “pants”.
The De Soto T1 First Wave is interesting because it’s different, but the more interesting thing is why it hasn’t become more widely accepted. Firstly, De Soto Sport has not promoted the design among paid-to-swim top pros. If De Soto Sport did pony up a few thousand dollars for a top pro to swim in their suit it would get more attention. They haven’t done that. As a result it hasn’t graced the cover of the top triathlon magazines. Secondly, it is very much a matter of “paradigms” or established beliefs. To the majority of triathletes who entered the sport in the last two decades a wetsuit has always been one piece. The problem is- they’re wrong.
To understand the De Soto T1 you must set the way-back machine to 1986. This is the era a young Dan Empfield, inventor of the triathlon wetsuit, founder of Quintana Roo, Inventor of the triathlon bike, Triathlon Hall of Famer and publisher of the Slowtwitch.com website first set about designing triathlon wetsuits. Some accounts suggest his early designs were a pants-only garment designed to float the legs. Empfield is a contemporary of Emilio De Soto, the founder of De Soto Sport. The pants-only approach to early triathlon wetsuit experiments was logical since it addressed two important goals: 1. It floated the legs, improving the triathlete’s “water line” while swimming and enabling them to maintain a “downhill” swimming attitude. 2. It maintained complete freedom of movement for the upper body while swimming.
Advantages of the Two-Piece Wetsuit Concept:
- Top of suit is sized differently from bottom of suit insuring a more precise fit, especially for unusual body shapes.
- Top of suit operates independently from bottom of suit providing greater freedom of movement in the arms.
- Suit feels less restrictive in the chest, reducing wetsuit anxiety often experienced by new users.
- Suit is modular and can be used with different components for different temperatures, distances and swim abilities.
The current De Soto Sport T1 First Wave hearkens back to the concept of the pants-only suit, but with significant improvements. The new T1 First Wave top is an elegantly simple design. The body is 2 mm neoprene cut on De Soto’s “Bio Stroke” pattern. Bio Stroke orients the suit naturally in the reach phase of the stroke, making freestyle swimming easier. There are a few benefits to Bio Stroke; the suit needs to stretch less while swimming, and stretching fabric takes energy. That energy comes from you. When you don’t use the energy to stretch neoprene you can either save it, or use it to swim faster. Additionally, since the pattern of the suit facilitates a better swim stroke and more freedom of movement the fabric doesn’t have to. That increases buoyancy and reduces cost since a slightly thicker neoprene can be used with no loss in freedom of movement; it actually is better. Secondly, De Soto is free from the race to the bottom with ultra-thin, ultra-stretchy neoprenes that are fragile, fit poorly and take on water during a long swim.
The arms of the De Soto T1 First Wave Top are also 2 mm neoprene. There are no “stroke enhancing” appliances to create extra drag on the arms. It is one sleek, buoyant, easy to swim in pattern of neoprene.
There is an additional version of the De Soto T1 First Wave Top called the Concept 5 Pullover. The Concept 5 Pullover uses thicker 5 mm neoprene in the arms up to the lower bicep, just above your elbow. This thicker neoprene increases buoyancy of the forward portion of your arm, further correcting waterline. It also enlarges the surface area of your forearm during the pull phase of the stroke. The two versions of the top are separated by $50 in price, with the T1 First Wave Pullover costing $260 and the thicker-forearm design T1 First Wave Concept 5 at $310. For most swimmers the $50 extra for the thicker forearm is something they will appreciate.
De Soto has switched to GreenGoma #9 neoprene. GreenGoma is limestone based according to De Soto Sport. De Soto Sport asserts the new rubber offers better bouyancy, insulation, durability and soaks up less water in long swims.
De Soto T1 First Wave tops use a custom YKK zipper that closes by pulling downward. It is smaller than conventional one piece wetsuit zippers and, since it is smaller, reduces weight- a benefit since that maintains buoyancy. To remove the suit you grab the leash and pull upward, opening the upper torso. It is nearly impossible for this zipper design to be accidentally opened in the water.
The bottom of the suit we tested was the De Soto Sport First Wave Bibjohn. This bottom uses 3 mm thin bibstraps and thick 5 mm neoprene hips and leg panels. The leg openings are speed cut and fully taped at the seams to allow fast removal in T1. You don the bottom first and pull your T1 First Wave top over it.
The First Wave Bibjohn is immune to the most common problem in wetsuit performance, especially among new users: Even if you don’t pull the bottom of the suit up enough while donning it won’t affect the performance of the top of the suit. The ability to buy different size bottoms than tops becomes apparent for problem fits here also.
Why Don’t I See More De Soto Two Piece Wetsuits at Races?
That was my first question after swimming in the suit. De Soto Sport doesn’t have a vast dealer base compared to the sum of all the other wetsuit brands selling one piece designs. They are also conservative in their promotional efforts, not only with wetsuits, but with their apparel. De Soto Sport is more “go” than “show”.
Because the suit is designed differently you use it differently. For swim starts like Alcatraz and the early versions of the Steelhead 70.3 triathlon where competitors enter the water with a feet-first jump off a boat or elevated dock, the rush of water will push the top of the suit upward when you hit the water. You simply pull it back down and it stays there once you start swimming.
Another speed bump to acceptance of the De Soto two piece wetsuit design is you actually have to swim in it to feel the performance advantage, something few wetsuit buyers have the opportunity to do at the point of sale. For the few retailers who have a pool facility to test wetsuits in the water before buying, many more De Soto suits get to the cash register.
I have swam extensively in the two-piece T1, but not the new GreenGoma version. My first De Soto T1 was an early version in a distinctive silver color. When the suit was first introduced we conducted pool trials using an accomplished, collegiate level swimmer as our tester and also timed removal trials to see how the two piece design performed compared to a one piece suit during removal. This was the first indication that the two piece design had merit we weren’t experiencing in one piece fullsuits.
Since first swimming in the T1 two piece suits I’ve considered them a “best kept secret” among fast age groupers. I get the opportunity to try a large number of wetsuits and a big challenge is differentiating between the many one piece suits that are actually very similar. That isn’t a problem with the two piece De Soto suits. They are tangibly different, and I’ll argue, tangibly better. To me that isn’t a secret.