Wattie Ink. Elite Team Gear Review – The Blue Seventy Helix

I can think of no amateur elite team with better sponsor support than the Wattie Ink. Elite Team. I was excited this year when one of our sponsors, Blue Seventy, made their top-of-the line full-sleeve Helix wetsuit available to team members. While there are some new kids on the block like Roka and Huub, the Helix has long set the standard for triathlon wetsuits and has proven itself with win after win. Gloria (aka TriathleteDrG) once commented, after watching the pros at Ironman 70.3 Oceanside exit the swim, that it seemed like nearly every pro was wearing the Helix. I later checked Blue Seventy’s website and noticed that only one or two of those pros, tops, were sponsored by Blue Seventy. If anything, it seemed like the only pros not wearing a Helix were sponsored by other companies. While some may have obtained their Helix wetsuits through shop sponsorships, most, if not all, probably bought them themselves, which tells you that when it was their money, they chose the Helix. It was that good.

TBF Ken Swim

The Helix is still that good. I have been at least as fast, and sometimes faster than in my prior wetsuit, but swims vary a lot, even at the same venue (one year it can be smooth; the next year choppy), making accurate assessments based on race times difficult. I didn’t do any test sets in the pool either. I’m really good at descending and at swim bingo (i.e., swimming 50s and trying to hit specific time), but I feel like such test sets require too much precision for objective value. I did, however, spend the entire season race in it, and on that basis I can say it is an excellent wetsuit. I have also swam and competed in other excellent wetsuits, so I do have a frame of reference.

Flexibility in the shoulder and chest area is excellent, although it was initially pretty tight and took a few swims to break in. It’s easy to see why. The sleeves are very thin, only 1.5mm. This is thinner than any wetsuit I know. The sleeves of my previous wetsuit, by comparison, were 2mm. The inside forearm surface is even thinner, lacking any rubber and consisting solely of lycra. This is not intended as a “catch panel”, which is a special surface on the forearm intended to “catch” water more effectively in the catch phase. Catch panels were all the rage on new wetsuit designs a few years ago. These days, it seems like the effectiveness of catch panels is questionable, at best. Finally, the chest area’s paneling is designed with a thinner, more flexible center section.

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A front view of the Helix, showing the interior paneling, which is noticeably different down the center of the chest, down the sides, and in the shoulders arms.

While shoulder and chest flexibility is a major focus in wetsuit design, I personally notice and desire leg flexibility as well.I use a relatively high-tempo kick even for distance swimming, especially during a swim start when I want to get out in front, when I turn a buoy, or when I want to jump on someone’s feet. Previous suits, while buoyant in the legs, have also felt stiff. The Helix is noticeably more flexible, especially in the knee area. The Helix is designed with thinner rubber in the knee areas, specifically to improve flexibility and you can feel the difference.

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A rear view of the interior paneling of the Helix. The paneling in the back of the knees is thinner and noticeably more flexible. This is excellent for a more effective kick. Also note the interior paneling in the back and shoulders, as well as in the lower leg/ankle area. This last item helps make the suit very, very easy to remove in transition.

One thing I really, really appreciate about the Helix is how easy it is to remove in transition. With my previous wetsuits, getting my suit down to and off my feet was always a challenge, but the Helix is very flexible in the lower leg and ankle area. It rolls down and pulls off, over my feet, with no effort.

One item people have mixed feelings about is the zipper. Unlike most wetsuits, the Helix has a reverse zipper. It zips closed from the neck down and unzips from the waist up. First, the suit will not unzip if someone grabs your leash during a swim. Second, it is much easier to reach and unzip, especially when you are cold, running, and in a hurry. People with tight shoulders or limited range of motion in their shoulders will greatly appreciate this feature. What people do not like about this type of zipper is that it is impossible to zip closed without help from another person. However, this is no different from wetsuits with more conventional zippers. My prior wetsuit, which had a conventional zipper design, even included instructions stating that it was not designed to be zipped closed without outside help.

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The Helix, zipped open, with the zipper at the neck.

It should also be noted that the Helix, while feeling very light and flexible, also has a fragile feeling rubber surface. I have yet to damage it, but it feels more vulnerable to damage, especially from rocks and fingernails, than other suits I have owned. You should care for every wetsuit properly, but with the Helix I recommend particular caution. For example, the wrist and arm fits to tightly to pull off while wearing my Garmin 910XT. As a result, I unstrap my Garmin and hold it one hand, while pulling off the sleeve (This is easier with the Garmin quick release strap, but I nearly lost it while wrestling out to the front of the pack at Wildflower and haven’t used it since). While it is an extra step, I am not about to risk damaging such a nice wetsuit or the wasted time struggling to get it off.

Sac International Wetsuit

Suiting up for the TBF California International Triathlon at Discovery Park. The Garmin 910XT on my left wrist makes pulling the sleeve off difficult and risks damaging the Helix.

This review does come with a caveat. The Helix works for me. Wetsuits are highly individual, because the biggest factor influencing whether a wetsuit will work for you will be its fit. Even different models made by the same company can fit differently, because of different paneling and rubber. When we were in San Diego last year for Ironman 70.3 Oceanside, we stopped at Nytro and I tried on about half a dozen suits. This is why it is important to try on a wetsuit before you buy it, assuming you have the opportunity.

Fit, for me, is excellent. I have yet to experience any chafing or leaking. Size charts are tricky. At 5’9 and 135 lbs. on race day, wetsuit sizing almost always skews towards body types shorter and heavier than I am. Fortunately, I previously had an opportunity to try one on and also got some secondary input from Ryan Vanderloop at Blue Seventy, who thought the Extra small would be too short for me and the Small Tall too tall. It is available in both men’s and women’s sizing.

Only Wattie Ink. gets barbed wire on its Helix. This was pretty special for Blue Seventy, because they had to make it this way at the factory.

Only Wattie Ink. gets barbed wire on its Helix. This was pretty special for Blue Seventy, because they had to make it this way at the factory.

Finally, I have to add that this particular suit is pretty wicked. Not only is it one of the best wetsuits around, it is also a special custom design made specifically for Wattie Ink. According to a Blue Seventy rep I spoke with at Ironman Texas, the custom graphics were a pretty big deal. They were not printed, rather, the wetsuit was MADE with the graphics at the factory. No other suit has the W and barbed wire to match. That is awesome. There is nothing else like it.  It just goes to show how great Wattie Ink’s sponsors are. If you want one, you have to join the Elite Team (applications will be out soon).

The Helix retails for $650, which is in line with other high-end wetsuits. It is an excellent, excellent wetsuit with a proven track record and it has long been the choice of many top athletes who made the choice not based on sponsorship, but with their own pocketbook. It is available for purchase online through Blue Seventy or through authorized retailers.

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