Monday, October 14, 2013

Wetsuit Review: Huub Axena

The cool folks at Huub (remember, it rhymes with dude) have created another wetsuit. This one is a women’s triathlon wetsuit with top-notch flexibility and buoyancy AND it’s apparently Caroline Steffen’s favorite wetsuit.

Is it my new favorite wetsuit? No, but let me explain.

I went back and forth with the Huub people about sizing. I’m 5’11” and around 130lbs and I have a very long torso. According the Huub size chart, a medium fits women 5’2” – 5’9” of medium build who weigh 122-142lbs. ML (I’m not sure if it stands for medium-long or medium-large) fits women 5’5” – 5’11” of medium/large build who weigh 138-155lbs. And a large fits women 5’6” – 6’1” with large builds, weighing 144-166lbs. They sent me a ML suit to try. The suit wasn’t quite long enough for my torso—it pulled my shoulders down and forward into a really attractive slouch—but it was too big everywhere else.

I tested the Axena in open water first. I didn’t bother measuring a course since that protocol was questionably useful in last year’s tests. Instead, I took it for an hour-long steady cruise in a lake. That steady cruise eventually turned into a crank towards shore as thunder clouds rolled in and the sky darkened. The suit was fine for the cruise portion of my outing. I felt some water sloshing around throughout the suit, which wasn’t ideal, but it certainly didn’t destroy my enjoyment of a relaxing swim. My experience was quite different as I tried to speed up. The suit felt heavy. I became aware that water was entering through every opening—the neck, the wrists and maybe even the legs. I felt like I was pulling a parachute.

I tested the Axena in the pool using the same protocol as last year’s tests: 4 x 100 descend with no interval so I had plenty of time to dump the water out of the suit between trials. The process was unpleasant. The first 25 of each 100 was tolerable, but I picked up more and more water as I swam (partially due to flip turns) making the last 25 of each 100 more of a strength session than a smooth swim.

The results:

The features (my comments are in italics):
-X-O Skeleton for improved buoyancy in thighs and hips
-Over reach panel to reduce cross-over and maintain stroke efficiency
-Bicep Release™ for improved arm flexion (suit was too big in the arms for me)
-Calf Release™ giving the Achilles and calf muscle freedom of movement (It was also too big in the legs. While some water-collecting suits balloon out when filled with water, the Axena held its shape for the most part and the water flowed out on its own.)
-3mm exclusive upper body neoprene for comfort, stroke efficiency and un-matched flexibility
-Breakaway Zipper, the quickest in Triathlon (I still can’t quite figure this out, but I’m sure it’s easy once you get the hang of it.)
-Unique combination of lining materials (Like the other Huub suits I’ve tried, the Axena is soft and snuggly.)

The bottom line: This is a really cool suit, but it’s not for me. If you feel like the size chart describes you perfectly, I highly recommend you try it. I’ll even help you figure out how to zip yourself in and out.

To read last year's review of wetsuits, click here.

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