When heading out to a particularly nasty swim start, we once heard someone describe their wetsuit as their “swim security blanket.” And when we thought about it, that was actually a pretty apt description for exactly what a good wetsuit can do for you, especially if you’re an age-grouper looking to exit the water and head to T1 in the best shape possible. A good wetsuit can do so much more than keep you warm in chilly temps, it can provide some very welcome buoyancy support, inevitably lead to shorter swim times—even for the most average swimmer among us.
On the other hand, an ill-fitting wetsuit can leave you feeling restricted and limit your range of motion in the water (probably more like a wet blanket at that point rather than a security blanket). So, finding the right fit is essential, especially depending on what kind of a swimmer you are. Orca agrees, which is why they help athletes determine which suit is right for them based on the Orca Swim Scale.
The scale introduces you to three possible swimmer “types”: the natural swimmer, the total swimmer, and the progressive swimmer. As you’d imagine, the natural is someone who is a fantastic swimmer in need of a wetsuit offering very little buoyancy support and maximum flexibility (spoiler alert – that’s not us). The progressive swimmer level is perfect for a beginner looking for plenty of floatability. We fall in the middle, which is what Orca describes as the total swimmer: “Your technique is good, your stroke and position are OK, but you sometimes make small mistakes related to your kicking technique. You’re looking for a wetsuit with maximum freedom in the upper body and extra floatability that helps you achieve a more effective and hydrodynamic horizontal position.”
That’s exactly the type of swimmer the Predator was made for—the middle-of-the-pack swimmer looking for a little support to help them maintain an effective horizontal position, even when they’re tired.
So how does Orca pull off the ideal combo of buoyancy while still providing you with that feeling of freedom in your upper body? It’s all in the material.
Orca’s 0.88 Free technology was developed together with Yamamoto, the world’s main supplier of high-performance neoprene, with the goal of creating the most stretchable material out there. And at only 0.5mm, Orca claims this is the thinnest wetsuit on the market today. Orca also combines their inner lining with a layer of Titanium to provide you with even better thermal insulation, despite the thinness of the material. You’ll find this material in the Predator’s arms and back, which helps maximize your stroke freedom.
That lower-body/core support comes from Orca’s Core Lateral Stabilizer (CLS) with Exo-Cell Panels, as well as Aerodome 2 technology. CLS helps to provide lateral rigidity to your core to prevent twisting while raising your lower body, which allows you to maintain proper form longer and easier. Used in the suit’s lower body, Aerodome 2 is composed of hundreds of cavities between two layers of flexible treated neoprene, providing you with 30% more buoyancy right where you need it.
The Predator also features Hydrolite panels, which Orca says helps the wetsuit come off easier for faster transitions. Hydrolite is also combined with SCS coating to help the water slide off the suit more effectively, reducing water absorption and improving Predator’s hydrodynamics.
So while all this technology sounds great, was the Predator really all it was cracked up to be? In short – yes, and then some.
We trained and raced in the Predator last fall, and since then, we can definitely see why so many triathletes consider the Predator to be their go-to wetsuit for race day.
We are always a little wary of testing a new full-sleeve suit. As we mentioned earlier, if it’s not a good fit, you can end up feeling claustrophobic and restricted. Not the kind of thing you want to be thinking about in the open water. Fortunately, the Predator fit our Chief Editor like a glove. Although the super-thin material was a little disconcerting at first. The last thing you want to do is put your fingernail right through the material or rip a seam, and that leads you to worrying about transition—how in the world is this thing going to survive the chaotic pulling, tearing, and tugging in T1? Fortunately, we had a few tricks up our sleeves—and so did Orca.
The Predator came with a pair of soft gloves to help you put the suit on (in a calm, controlled environment, of course). We also always have a set of plastic grocery bags handy when we’re about to slip into a wetsuit. If you’ve never tried it, put a plastic bag over your bare feet and then step into the suit. The plastic makes slipping the legs over your feet and lower legs so much easier. You can do the same with your hands and upper arms. Trust us on this one. Just throw a few bags in your transition bag. You’ll thank us later.
Of course, getting the suit on pre-race is one thing. Would it survive a transition? We’re happy to report that the Predator came out completely unscathed. It survived a quick T1, being trampled, and then shoved into our gear bag by a friendly volunteer.
The Predator kept our Chief Editor warm, comfortable, and supported throughout the length of the IM FL swim last November. The amount of water that entered the suit was minimal, and the material lived up to its claims—he never felt restricted or limited in his stroke. He also felt like the Predator did its job of supporting his lower body and core, without making him feel overly buoyant. He was able to maintain his position easier for longer, which is a very welcome quality during an IM-distance swim.
We always use (and recommend) a layer of Body Glide in those areas that are prone to chafing, especially the neck. Although the Predator was extremely comfortable and smooth, thanks to the laser cutting used along the collar.
Overall, it’s hard for us to find any complaints with the Predator. If we were to have any, it would probably be with the price tag. After all, $899 isn’t cheap (that’s a heck of a security blanket!). However, we are firm believers in “you get what you pay for”. And in this case, you’re getting a top-of-the-line wetsuit that can help you maintain better form in the water even when you’re tired, ensuring you’re not dragging yourself to your bike. We think gear that can help you save energy and be more efficient at the same time is well worth the investment.