Sunday, February 04, 2007

Sacrificial Suit

Once upon a time, way back when in the late 1990's, Henderson USA decided to explore the paddling wetsuit market. Their entry in this market was a wonderfully comfy fleece-lined front-zip jumpsuit, cut for freedom of motion where a paddler needs freedom of motion, and reinforced where a paddler needs reinforcement.

The suit was only available for a couple of years - I guess the paddling market just doesn't have the same depth as the diving market.

(oooohh, sorry!)

Lucky for me, as a neophyte paddler who'd decided that she seriously dug this paddling thing to the point that she didn't want to stop when the time of year arrived in which a paddler needs to wear more than a bathing suit & board shorts, I was in the market at the time.

The price seemed steep, but it was soooo snuggly, and I had a pretty good idea I'd be wearing it a lot, so I sprang for it.

I didn't regret my decision. In fall & late spring, it was my outer layer. In the winter, it worked under a drysuit. I got a lot of good seasons out of that purchase.

Then a particularly gleeful series of pool sessions run by the Yonkers Paddling & Rowing Club, led by Andy Laiosa and Jack Gilman (local patron saint of G-style) triggered my winter chlorine addiction - and the Henderson was sacrificed to the pool gods.

I really do have to wear a wetsuit to get the most out of a pool session. Once I get cold, I just don't enjoy it as much. I get tired, and things start to not work so well.

That was true right from the start, and at the start, I was only there to learn. As I got better, I eventually started helping to teach at pool sessions as well, and when that happened, dressing right became even more important. Teaching frequently requires standing in chest-deep water for 2 or 3 hours at a time. Now, I never took physics so I can't specifically quote the laws of thermodynamics for you, but I believe one of those applies to the fact that if you submerge a 98.6 degree human body in an 80 degree swimming pool, the body and the water will try very hard to reach a happy medium of, oh, let's say 81 degrees for both. Happy for the water, if water can be said to be happy. Not so happy for the body.

Wearing a wetsuit really slows down that unpleasantly relentless heat transfer, so although I knew that chlorine wasn't going to be good for the suit, I decided it was a sacrifice I'd have to make.

I washed it after every session, but after lord only knows how many pool sessions (I'll sometimes get up to twice a week, teaching at one, practicing at another) the poor thing is now completely delaminated & the outer layer - that formerly seal-sleek spandex - now bags like an elephant's hide, and sprouts holes slightly faster than I can stitch them up. You can't even see the seams here, but this is truly a Frankensuit affair. Adding to the rattiness, an overly-eager-to-help lifeguard once decided to "fix" one of the earliest "pukas" - one that sprang on my right arm - by (without explaining what she was going to do) pulling the edges of the hole together around my arm and tying them in a knot - in the process stretching them out of shape & difficult to stitch.

Every year, I wear this suit to the pool and I think "OK, this is the year that it will simply disintegrate, falling from my body into rags drifting dangerously drainwards". Against that day, I now wear a swimsuit and leggings as a base layer.

Meanwhile, Frankensuit's successor rests folded on a shelf in my linen closet, safe (for the nonce) from the Pool Gods.

A fleece-lined, seal-sleek Mountain Surf farmer jane. I'd won an NRS HydroSkin long-sleeved top at the Hudson River Greenland Festival in 2004 (first place female in the sprint race plus second place female roller, if you'll excuse my trotting out some very dusty old laurels - plus Cheri Perry let me use her magic Stealth boat for the rolling, which is kind of cheating), and those 2 pieces let me paddle in comfort in an even wider range of temperatures than the Henderson.

And I don't care HOW awful the poor old Henderson looks - as long as I can manage to keep that ragged, bedraggled, chlorine-blasted old suit in close enough to one piece to keep me warm, chlorine shall not touch these newer garments.

Funny, when I started writing this I thought it was going to be about pool sessions, and fear, and magic-feather/magic-boat syndrome, and how easy it is to psych yourself out of doing something you really can do and, oh yeah, all that was going to lead up to how I pulled off my very first off-side hand roll in a non-Greenlandic sea kayak today (and how my rather excellent boyfriend flatly refused to put his camera away when I told him "No, no, put that camera away, I'm just going to fail again" and therefore actually got it on...uh...what do you get things on when you point a digital camera at something and shoot, it's not film, digits maybe?) That was pretty cool, and that's what I thought I was going to write about.

But I guess it's not such a bad thing give a moment in the bloglight to a good, high-quality piece of gear that's served me very well for a long, long time.

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