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Life in my swimsuit. Got crabs?

May 29, 2013

One of the most common questions I get is “You wear a wetsuit right?” Perhaps it is the proliferation of triathlons that makes people assume I wear a wetsuit. Or maybe it is that they see the 10k professional swimmers in long black suits. Or maybe people think that nobody would be crazy enough to swim in just a “regular” swimsuit especially in cold water.

Well folks its true there is NO wetsuit on my body when I swim in cold water. In fact it is completely against the rules. Don’t believe me? Here is a picture of me starting my 2012 English Channel swim. And yes that blue boat is my escort boat. My back looks white because I use zinc oxide to try to protect my skin from hours in the water. There you have it. Photographic evidence that it is just a regular swimsuit. (SIDE NOTE: I’m the first picture. Also men cannot wear wetsuits for channel swimming either. They often have the option between a traditional “Speedo” and a suit cut to the knees called a “jammer.” See pictures below.)

Michelle - No Wetsuit

Michelle – No Wetsuit


Speedo example

Speedo example


Jammer example

Jammer example

Now wearing a regular swimsuit has provided some interesting swim experiences. A regular swimsuit is not as tight or as much coverage as a wetsuit so more water moves continually through the suit. This is predominately a female issue. Without getting too deep into an anatomy lesson, women have body parts in the front that typically can create a gap between suit and skin that allows for more water to move through than men. Men’s suits fit really tight against the waist partly because if it a flatter surface and there is a drawstring. Still with me? Ok good.

With more water in the suit comes more flotsam and jetsam. Things that I’ve found in my swimsuit in no particular order:

  • Seaweed – various types and forms with and without barnacles
  • Twigs and branches 
  • Sand – not ideal at all on a long swim
  • A fish – yes really a fish! Unfortunately I didn’t notice until the end of the swim, so the poor salmon fry didn’t make it.
  • Sea lice – again not ideal on a swim. These little buggers bite, bite hard and itch. Typically I look as if I have the chicken pox if I encounter sea lice on a swim.
  • Garbage – various types and forms. Proof to me that we are polluting our vast oceans.
  • Jellyfish – worst type of live organism to have trapped in a swimsuit by far. They can get stuck in the fabric and then they just continue to sting
  • Dirt – pretty hard to avoid when swimming in clay and silt

And lastly…

Baby Dungeness crabs. Now the above items are pretty common occurrences in my suit, so it isn’t odd when I find them. This weekend though brought an entirely new experience. On training swims, I often check water temperature, tide tables, fishing reports, etc. I never thought for a moment to check the life cycle of the Dungeness crabs. My friend and I traveled down to the Oregon coast to train. As we got started, I noticed something scratching/biting me in my suit. I assumed that it was a piece of seaweed with barnacles, so I began the process of digging it out. Much to my surprise rather than seaweed, I found a baby Dungeness crab. More specifically the megalope stage (see picture below). According to the Oregon Dept of Fish and Wildlife – In late spring/ early summer, megalope can be seen throughout the nearshore areas of Oregon, sometimes in fantastic numbers. Megalope can even be observed doing some ingenious hitch-hiking on a small purple jellyfish known as Velella velella (or “by the wind sailors). These jellyfish sail to Oregon’s beaches in spring months from offshore areas. The Megalope stage occurs in the spring and summer.

Okay news to me. I guess I became the less than small animal for these guys to hitch a ride on. Once I removed the hitchhikers from my suit, I continued swimming. Unfortunately it was a time of “fantastic numbers” of megalope. I’d get about 10 strokes done before I was de-megaloping my swimsuit – and being an uptight girl from Midwest upbringing, I wasn’t about to swim even more naked than I already was, which is a frequent solution for my female marathon swimming friends. Not training was not an option. My friend who was kayaking just looked in the water and smiled “They’re everywhere so you better get swimming.” Somehow I’m not thinking she was experiencing the same pain I was. I was expecting a little more sympathy. Look at the picture, little sharp legs and yes even the pinchers are starting to develop. I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. Not very fun at all. I think some sympathy was earned.

Dungeness crab - Megalope

Dungeness crab – Megalope

I guess I’ll have to update my swim safety checklist in the future unless I want more megalope in the suit.   It reminds me that there is never a dull moment in the ocean when you are swimming in just a regular swimsuit.

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