Anyone who has been racing for a while will have some stories about just how crazy (and dangerous) a competitive open water swim can be. For us – two of our stories take place at the South Beach Triathlon. First in 2014 when our chief editor’s foot connected with another athlete’s face hard enough that he actually stopped to be sure he didn’t knock them unconcious (funny enough, he met up with that same person on a SlowTwitch forum and found out they were ok). Then once again this year when particularly horrendous surf conditions made us question our life choices about half-way to the first buoy – was this kind of risk really worth it? These kinds of situations are exactly why the Swim IT exists. Because open water is unpredictable, and even the most advanced swimmers can still get themselves into trouble. So having a backup safety plan never hurt anyone.
The Swim IT
One of the saddest moments in the sport for us personally was in 2017 at IMTX when we walked past transition long after swim close and saw a few bikes still there. By then we had already heard that at least one swimmer didn’t make it out of the water that day. These are the types of stories that inspired Rick Senn and Amanda McIntosh to invent the Swim IT back in 2012. At its core, the Swim IT is a Personal Flotation Device (pfd) that you can strap to your leg and call upon when needed. By the way, if you are wondering why we don’t have video of the AeroGeeks using the Swim IT, let’s just say that our GoPro suffered an unfortunate toddler-related incident. A replacement is on its way!
The Swim IT is not meant to replace proper training and experience. This isn’t a product that you should just strap on and jump into the ocean without any care in the world. Instead, think of this more like you would car insurance – you still had to learn how to safely drive the car, but bad things can, and will, happen. That insurance is there when they do. Swim IT tells us that the device, when deployed, buys time for the first responders to react, instead of looking for a drowning victim. This is why it is so important to have a device that you control and can deploy easily in the event an expected situation or undiagnosed medical condition prevents your ability to swim or signal for help.
Because accidents happen both during training and racing, the Swim IT is legal in all USA Triathlon sanctioned events, including Ironman races. Additionally, The Swim IT is legal in Challenge, Federaciòn de Triatlòn in Mexico and other races throughout the world. Because the Swim IT does not provide a competitive advantage or disadvantage prior to deployment, it is legal as worn undeployed. However, once deployed, the use of a buoyancy device is in violation of USAT rule 4.9 and would be cause for disqualification.
So, what exactly is the Swim IT? The Swim IT is a CO2 inflated collar that straps to your leg. In an emergency situation, you simply reach down to your leg, pull a cord, and a second later a fully inflated life ring is available to place around your neck. The Swim IT is fully reusable, simply needing to replace the expended CO2 cartridge with another cartridge. (Note: this does mean that you cannot fly with the Swim IT if the CO2 is installed. However, cartridges are easily picked up at any bike store once you reach your destination.) To repack the Swim IT, we definitely recommend checking out the video below as it can be a bit tricky the first time.
The Swim IT retails for $144.99 in 5 colors. You can check them out at https://www.shop.theswimit.com/.
We had a few details in mind that we wanted to cover with the Swim IT – was it comfortable to swim with, did it easily deploy, and would we want to race with it? Lets start with swimming. Leading up to the review, we had been told that it could take 10 minutes or so to acclimate to having it on our leg. In reality, it took only seconds. The Swim IT bands are extremely wide, so instead of feeling like we had something strapped to us, it more felt like we just had some really tight compression shorts on. Once we got up to speed, the Swim IT was hardly noticeable. We swam with just a pair of jammers on, so there was minimum insulation between us and the device. We imagine that if you wore it with a wetsuit you would have even less chance of feeling it there. We didn’t swim for time, so we cannot tell you for sure that it had no impact on our swim speed, but based on our impressions, we would say time loss would be minimal.
Now to the fun part – deployment. Any time we are about to unleash a CO2 cartridge, we always have a small bit of trepidation. Add to this that we had it strapped to our leg, and we were a bit nervous. But then we pulled the cord and … we suddenly had a fully inflated swim collar. It was simply a non-event. One moment we had the cord in hand and the next a pfd was floating next to us. Super simple. But we do stress that you want to try this out a few times in the water to make sure you know what to expect. In a panic situation, even a bright yellow pfd floating next to you may not be enough. We did find that, in one of our deployments we must of repacked it wrong and it got a bit tangled. Practice makes perfect. So, go to the pool, pull the cord, and practice. Then repack it and retry.
Now, would we race with it? Yes, but probably with at least one qualification. For the peace of mind that the Swim IT provides the time loss would be minimal (if not inconsequential). And the two clips on the strap are incredibly easy to pop off. In practice we could run with it (simulating T1), and as soon as we got to transition pop them off and toss the Swim IT on the ground. Total time loss being 3-5 seconds. There is also the concern of an accidental release. Swim IT tells us that to date (since 2012) there has never been an accidental deployment. The chances of someone swimming over us, their hand hitting our thigh, and then grabbing on to the release and pulling is incredibly remote – but, it does exist. And if it deploys, you are either done for the day or would have to ditch it immediately so that it doesn’t help you (and even then we aren’t sure what a ref would say if they saw it floating back there). Which is where the “but” comes in with our earlier comment. If we were fighting for a podium position where 2-3 seconds here or there could make a difference, then we may leave the Swim IT in the transition bag (but we would also be leaving the flat kit, extra bottle cages, and do just about everything else “risky” to gain some time). Where we could see the Swim IT coming in the water with us would be a longer distance swim where seconds could be made up elsewhere on course, and especially if the surf conditions made us think twice about our sanity when entering the water.
We are pretty excited about the Swim IT and have already recommended it to friends and colleagues of all swim abilities. We definitely do not see this as a beginners-only product as even a seasoned athlete could always use one in a worst-case scenario. At $144.99 the Swim IT isn’t cheap, but that price is also the same as a new saddle, tri kit, or any number of other products you may have spent on already, and those products may not be called upon to save your life. For added peace of mind with minimal performance cost, the Swim IT just became a regular member of our gear bag, and we definitely recommend you consider making It a part of yours as well.