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DeSoto T1 Wetsuits: Our Favorite
By Tom Demerly and Dawn Polk of Different Strokes Swim Shop.

Better, Cheaper, Faster: The T1 gives you buoyancy where you need it,
less restrictive swimming and is 19% faster to remove than a one piece, zipper suit.

"Perfection is not when there is nothing else to add, its when there is nothing left to take away."

In the world of product design and engineering that is a beautiful haiku. Elegance is a term so maligned and pandered that the true meaning of it has been perverted (not unlike this very sentence…), but I have a text book example for you.

Sideways thinking is something I admire: The way to solve a problem or make an improvement with unconventional or previously unknown ideas. That is innovation. Sometimes revolution.

You know you need a wetsuit to be competitive in triathlon swims. You know it also adds a big safety margin.

The triathlon wetsuit serves multiple functions. It keeps you warm; it provides flotation for safety and reduces anxiety about crowded, open water swimming; it makes you much faster with improved buoyancy and better hydrodynamics. There is no question you are warmer, safer and faster in a triathlon wetsuit.

Here's the problem: Traditional (old school) triathlon wetsuits were one piece "jumpsuit" styles that were complex (and expensive) designs of neoprene panels sewn and glued together into a neck-to-ankle garment. The suit used neoprene from 1.5mm to 5mm thick to achieve different levels of flotation and flexibility depending on where it was on the suit. All these different panels went into the pattern that was eventually glued and blind stitched together. You put the suit on and took it off with a big zipper that ran up the back of the suit.

The T1 forces you to "Press The Buoy" or swim downhill and achieve a better swim posture by supporting the legs better than one piece suits. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

With a one-piece wetsuit people report varying levels of effectiveness in swimming, especially with the most popular style- the long sleeve full suit. Most people who report poor results with a triathlon wetsuit do so because they didn't put it on correctly, it doesn't fit or both. They failed to pull the "pants" section of the suit up correctly and the sleeves down snugly enough. The suit may not fit correctly either. If you aren't built like a lean, mean well-trained triathlete this becomes an even bigger problem. Putting a full, one-piece wetsuit on correctly is not important, it's critical. If you fail to have a perfectly fitted one-piece wetsuit that you have put on correctly the suit will actually slow you down, the opposite of why you bought the thing in the first place. When people fail to get just the right size in an integrated, one-piece wetsuit and/or fail to put it on correctly the suit has a restrictive "pulling" sensation to it. It restricts your breathing and your stroke.

Finding the zipper pull and opening the zipper takes valuable time and is more difficult than pulling off the T1 top.

Another anomaly of the one-piece wetsuit is where it puts the majority of the flotation: In the chest.

Top swim coaches including Terry Laughlin of "Total Immersion" teach the importance of "downhill swimming" or "pressing the buoy" to swim more streamlined and level in the water. This technique of faster, easier, more efficient swimming causes a swimmer to be more horizontal in the water. The problem with most of us, especially crappy swimmers (like me) is that your legs sink. Since your chest is full of air (in your lungs) it floats just fine on its own. You don't need an extra 5mm of floatation on your chest as bad as you need it on your legs.

Guy on the left is doing it wrong: Guy on the right has done it correctly: Remove the suit to the waist as soon as you stand up in the water.


Dan Empfield, founder of Quintana Roo and inventor of the triathlon wetsuit, is designing the first triathlon wetsuit in the 80's. Empfield is a clever fellow and knows a thing or two about wetsuits and a lot about triathlons from being a classic California surfer dude.

Look at a photo of the first Ironman triathlon field: Dan is there. He observes that triathletes need flotation primarily in the legs. The very first triathlon wetsuit is born and it is a "pants only" design. Empfield is a clever marketing man though and knows this simple concept will be tough to sell so, for added warmth and sale-ability he puts a top on the thing and, boom, an industry is born. The industry didn't look back for years.

Empfield sold Quintana Roo years ago and retreated back into the peace and eccentricity that is his mind. It is where ideas are born. Empfield was free from the financial constraints of corporate reality. His brain hit "reset" and he went back to the mental drawing board. In it he saw a wetsuit that delivered flotation to where the athlete needed it most: The legs. The wetsuit was so easy to put on it was impossible to get it wrong. Even a first time user could benefit from it instantly. For the accomplished triathlete it offered better fit, flexibility and freedom of movement than one-piece designs. The neck was lower, allowing easier breathing and no chafing. The wetsuit was modular: If you wanted a full suit one day you could have it. The same suit could be a long john the next day. Part of the suit could even be used for other watersports. If you damaged the leg or arm of the suit there was no need to replace the entire suit, just the damaged component. The separate components (top and bottom) could be sized differently. There was no zipper to fail. The suit was lighter and more flexible. It was much less expensive than one-piece triathlon wetsuits but more comfortable and faster. It was as fast or even faster in the transition area. It was the next logical step in triathlon wetsuit design. It was pure Empfield.

Separating the top and bottom of the suit gives all swimmers, especially weak swimmers and novices, greater freedom of movement in the suit. It is easier to breath and the suit is less restrictive. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

Empfield pitched the new wetsuit idea to henchmen Emilio De Soto and Dan Neyenhuis. De Soto is a flamboyant and charismatic Cuban playboy whose line of daring Brazilian-inspired triathlon clothing caused a sensation in Southern California. The De Soto brand has since caught on elsewhere. De Soto always seems to be in the company of several beautiful women, usually the models who appeared in his racy catalogs. He's done more than just cut a dashing profile though. Emilo De Soto was an impressive professional and masters triathlete. In addition to gratuitous sex appeal (continued today in his new low-rise "hip hugger" tri shorts for women) De Soto built function into his technical tri clothing. De Soto's company was a natural for bringing Empfield's advanced third generation triathlon wetsuit concept into reality.

The suit is easier to put on and allows greater freedom of movement in the arm. You almost can't put it on wrong.

The advantages of these suits can be summed up in three words: Better, Cheaper, Faster.

The suits are better because of their versatility and modular construction: The fit is more customized and precise with separately sized top and bottom, especially for first time wetsuit buyers. Suit components can be replaced separately if damaged. Once you own the top and bottom you can also buy a vest (sleeveless) top to make it a long john suit. With no zipper to fail the suits are more durable. The zipper can never open accidentally during the swim, since there isn't one.

The suits are cheaper: A full De Soto T1 Wetsuit top and bottom sells for $384.00. A Quintana Roo Superfull one piece suit is $429-449 and cannot be converted to a long john suit in warmer conditions. An Aquaman Bionik is $420. The De Soto T1 is, at a minimum, 9% less expensive than the other premium wetsuits with greater comfort, speed and versatility.

The suits are faster because they provide flotation where the swimmer needs it: The legs. They "force" you to swim more correctly. They benefit novice swimmers the most by helping to correct their most rudimentary swimming error- letting their legs sink. Because the suit is separate components top and bottom it allows greater range of motion and flexibility in the torso. It is easier to put the suit on- it almost cannot be put on wrong. The arms never restrict the stroke. There is greatly reduced sensation of restricted breathing. In the transition area the suit is actually faster to remove.

Eric Fernando does it right. By the time you hit the beach (running) the top of your suit should be off. It is much easier and faster to pull the top of a T1 off than a zippered 1 piece suit.

Swimming in the De Soto T1 confirms the suit is different. It feels less like you are wearing a wetsuit. The top of the suit is more form fitting, especially at the back where one-piece suits with a zipper are "baggier". Not having a direct attachment between the top and bottom of the suit makes the suit swim "more freely". You really notice a difference in flexibility of the suit when you do a flip turn. This isn't of much use in open water, but it underscores the effect separating the top and bottom has on suit flexibility and ease of movement. I felt my stroke more in the two-piece T1. I do feel a little faster in this suit than a one-piece suit, it just feels "easier" to swim. I have to believe this ease makes you faster. How much? I have no idea. I imagine it will vary from person to person depending largely on their swimming experience.

If you are used to swimming in a one-piece suit I think you will like the T1. If you have never swam in a triathlon wetsuit at all and you do swim in a two-piece suit like the T1 first, if you do try a one-piece suit I doubt you will like the one-piece suit. A one-piece suit will feel very restrictive after swimming in the T1.

I had serious doubts about being able to remove a two piece suit as quickly as a one piece. I've practiced transitions quite a bit and I have one piece wetsuit removal down to a science, at least for me. I can easily remove a one-piece suit from the waist in less than nine seconds, and you can too with 30 minutes of practice. We teach a transition class here at Bikesport that includes a block of instruction on high-speed wetsuit removal and it never fails to make people faster at wetsuit removal, regardless of the type of suit.

This is an early attempt at removing the suit. With practice the entire suit can be removed (top and bottom) in 8.82 seconds.

The thing to remember about wetsuit removal is that, when you hit thigh deep water, you pull the top of your suit off. Since you are doing this while running that portion of the removal really doesn't add to your transition time. In the case of the T1 that is a shame, since the T1 is much, much faster to remove from the top half of your body than a one piece suit.

Dawn Polk, Manager of Different Strokes Swim Shop in Livonia: (248) 477-0521, assisted us in our test and these photos. Dawn is an experience swimmer and triathlete. She had no problems removing the T1 quickly after one short block of instruction. Dawn also illustrated one of the other advantages of the De Soto T1 two-piece concept. She first tried on a size 4 bottom and a size 4 top. The size 4 bottom fit nicely but she settled on a size 3 top for a better fit. The size 4 top was too big. The size 3 worked much better. You can't do that with a one piece suit.

I did four trials of wetsuit removal while I was wet (but not using Bodyglide or other lubricant that would make the removal faster)comparing the T1 against the Quintana Roo Superfull. I divided the removal times into two segments: With the wetsuit completely on to removal of the top to the waist(in other words, just removing the top of the suit to the waist); Then, removal of the pants section until it is completely off. I used Cesium touch pad stopwatch software in a Palm V PDA to time the removals. Each removal includes the time it took for me to touch the PDA screen to stop the clock, about half a second.

Top Only
From Waist

QR Superfull 1 Piece Removal.

Four removal trials with suit wet.

1 11.58 12.37 23.95
2 09.47 11.53 21.00
3 10.01 11.36 21.37
4 11.27 10.04 21.31
  10.58 11.32 21.90

DeSoto T1 2 Piece Removal.

Four removal trials with suit wet.

1 06.30 13.76 20.06
2 07.84 11.14 18.98
3 05.35 10.10 15.45
4 06.19 10.39 16.58
  06.42 11.34 17.76

What I found was the T1 wetsuits is 19% faster on average to remove than a QR Superfull after four trials. This is an average over the total removal time. That is significant. The bottom of the T1 was marginally slower to remove for two reasons: The legs are not "speed cut" or angle cut and you have to take down the "bib" suspenders, which adds somewhere along the lines of 1.5-1.7 seconds. I'm not certain why De Soto elected to not use the angle cut "speed cut" opening at the ankle, but my presumption is that "speed cut" ankles do remove some floatation from the legs and feet. Realistically, you could do a subtle version of angle cutting the ankle on your T1 if you wanted to at home with a keen eye and a pair of scissors. I see no need to.

There is an excellent video of Emilio De Soto removing a T1 wetsuit at his website, in his tech and specs section. In this video Emilio has the T1 off in 8.87 seconds, top and bottom. With practice I have no doubts I will be pulling mine off as fast very soon.

I was ready for this test to come out either way. When I first saw the T1 wetsuits I thought "It will take much longer and be more difficult to remove them". I was wrong, and this proves it. For people who think a two piece takes longer to remove, well, they are wrong. With either suit you do have to practice removing them to minimize time, but the T1 two piece is defiantly faster in the transition area overall.

In general I was initially resistant to the idea of two piece wetsuits. We already had existing relationships with several excellent one-piece wetsuit makers. I didn't want to take on another brand, especially one that was a smaller company seven days UPS shipping away from us in California. But the technical advantages of the T1 are so substantial they can't be ignored. If we didn't offer them to customers and wound up selling them a one-piece zipper suit instead, then they found out about the T1 on their own we would be in big trouble. The T1 is an enormous improvement over old one-piece zippered suits. Three words: Better, Cheaper, Faster.

De Soto Wet Suit Size Chart

1 5'1" - 5'7" 105 - 125 lbs.
2 5'3" - 5'9" 122 - 138 lbs.
3 5" - 5'11"
135 - 153 lbs.
4 5'8" - 6'2" 150 - 180 lbs.
5 5'10" - 6'4" 175 - 205 lbs.
6 6'0" - 6'6" 200 - 230 lbs

© 2003 Tom Demerly -
No portion of this article may be used without expressed written permission.





© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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