The fact that the majority of people choose to use wetsuits, even when they have the choice not to, seems to me to indicate that people swim in wetsuits because they like swimming in wetsuits. Indeed, when swimming in cooler water (ie, the temperature of most open water swims), most people prefer to swim in wetsuits rather than skins. Oddly, this view is contrary to that which seems to be expressed, implicitly at any rate, in the comments I frequently see in the swimming forums when the topic of wetsuits comes up. Some of the comments seem to be written in the belief that wetsuit wearers have been fooled into thinking that they couldn’t manage colder water swims without a wetsuit at worst and at best haven’t yet realised the joys of swimming without a wetsuit, and that all that is therefore needed is sufficient encouragement to support them in casting off their wetsuits and gleefully joining the wonderful world of skins.
Take a recent series of comments on a post on Did You Swim Today?, an incredibly popular Facebook group where people post about swimming, and everything to do with it, from all over the (English speaking, swimming) world. A gentleman in Spain had posted about his new wetsuit, and had asked a perfectly reasonable question. I used it for the first time this week, he said, and whereas I can normally swim 3k comfortably, with it I only managed 1.2. It felt stiff around the chest. Will I get used to it? The first eight or ten responses were not, as you might expect, from wetsuit wearers answering his question, but from non-wetsuit wearers advising him not to bother with the wetsuit, to leave it off and to acclimatise to swimming without it.
Now, had the gentleman in question asked “I found it uncomfortable to swim in my new wetsuit, could I swim through the winter without it?”, fair enough. But he didn’t, he asked whether he would get used to it. Even after he politely pointed out that the sea temperature in his part of Spain dropped to fifteen degrees during the winter, which was far too cold for him and that he therefore wanted the wetsuit so he could keep sea swimming when the temperatures dropped, the chorus of wetsuit disapproval continued. Hardy Northern European swimmers pointed out that they swam long distances in 15° and that it should be perfectly possible for him to do so too. It didn’t seem to have occurred to them that 15° was his lowest winter temperature, and that to tell him it wasn’t that cold was a bit like a British Devonian cold water swimmer being told by a Siberian ice swimmer that 5° isn’t a problem and they should easily be able to knock out three and four K at that temperature if they take the trouble to get acclimatised.