“Like an eel in a bucket of snot” – leave it to the Dutch to come up with charming sayings. This one is used to describe slippery people, and not in a favorable way, but it can also be applied to the Orca Free, and then it is a high compliment. You want your suit to be slippery, for slippery means less effort in the glide and more efficiency in stroke. Especially in the categories in freediving where we don’t use fins efficiency becomes paramount.
It is for our current no fins champion that this suit was developed. William Trubridge has had a long term relationship with Orca, a triathlon brand whose wetsuits have been used by freedivers for well over a decade now. Tri-suits lend themselves naturally to the no fins categories, as they are made to move in, especially in the arms. But a traditional tri-suit isn’t meant for deep diving, as it has thick patches of neoprene which don’t help us, either in depth or in the pool. For most, 3 mm on the legs will make them banana and mess up their streamline in the pool, and 4 or 5 mm on the chest will be far too buoyant and compressible. So when Orca started developing a suit for freediving, they did it with the help of William.
The First Generation
This led to the first generation of the Orca Free, a suit ideal for deep no-fins dives. 2mm of neoprene, lining inside, and an extra flap used in surfing suits that go over the head, to prevent water entry in the back through the zipper. William wore it during his historic 100-meter dive, and the black and blue design was quickly seen everywhere in freediving competitions.
That is, everywhere with warm waters; 2mm is just about enough for waters of 26 C / 78 F, but when the temperature dips below that, you better not need a warm up, unless you like shivering during your dive. The coldest place I’ve seen the Free being used successfully was in Greece, where the water was 24 C / 75 F on the surface, and the divers were all no-warm-up guys.
When I tried the original Free, I was surprised at how small the opening to get in is, wondering if I could get my skinny butt through there – the suit was obviously made with William in mind, and he was very sleek back then. When I got in eventually, I was impressed by the suit, how well it moved, but I also felt slightly restricted. Strange, for I’d had Orca suits before and the size was never an issue. The original Free was, contrary to its name, slightly constricting. Perhaps I should have tried one size up.
Since the original free, there have been a few new iterations – there was a “black, silver and blue” one he wore for a few years, and I saw a “black and gold” one last year, but these never seemed to make it to the market. Until this year at Vertical Blue, where the new Free, in “blue and silver”, was worn not only by William but by several other divers; Orca was back into making freedive suits for more than only William.
And it fits!
The opening still seems scary small, but neoprene development hasn’t stood still in the last 7 years. Yamamoto makes the excellent 39 cell now, which is smooth as “silk smeared with butter”. Very stretchy, helped by Infinityskin lining that is both soft and extremely elastic, you glide right in. The lower part, that is. Orca still is a triathlon suit manufacturer so the legs are a tad high water – perhaps not the most stylish, but it does facilitate easy entry and exit. The arms, however, are a different story.
Now, when I was built, nature did one of her cruel jokes, an experiment in how long she could stretch limbs. This has resulted in impressive reach, but wrists that are at best dainty – they’d be cute on a 12-year-old girl. That is to say, cuffs are always large on me. The rest of my arms aren’t particularly big, either. Long, yes, but not big. And yet I had enormous trouble getting my sticks into the Orca: the circumference of the wrist is, I kid you not, 3 fingers! And it doesn’t widen up much towards the elbow and bicep. The suit comes with white gloves for donning, but that’s to not damage the outside. Most people use thin plastic bags over their hand and wrists to get into the sleeves – forget them and you’re in for a real tricky 10 minutes of delicate maneuvers.
Once you’re in though, and you’ve put the extra flap over your head and closed the zip (up to down rather than the more traditional down to up), you’ll find you are in a very comfortable and smooth suit. Getting into a streamline position is as easy as it is without a suit on, there are absolutely no impediments on movement. It gets even better in the water; there is no water entry through the zipper because of the extra flap, and that sleeve that was so tricky to get into is now tight enough that nothing gets in there, either.
I first tried the suit in the pool, where I have a bit of a standard test: I see how few strokes it takes me to cover 25 meters. With a good suit and proper weighting, I can usually do it in a push off, an arm stroke and a leg stroke. Then I do 50’s at my normal pace and see how many strokes and how long it takes. Normally that’s somewhere around a minute, and 3 strokes per 25m. The first time I pushed off in the Orca I noticed a couple of things. The first was that the suit didn’t catch any water in the neck. Usually, that’s where a triathlon type suit flushes, and not only can that be cold, it also means you’ll get less distance from your push off. The second thing I noticed was how well the sleeves hold out water; there’s no flapping, no extra resistance. The third thing, after some time, was that I was still gliding – it didn’t seem to end. “Eel in a bucket of snot” type glide. After that push off and arm stroke, I barely needed a leg stroke to cover the 25m.
Now, I have done 25m in just a push off and a leg-stroke, once, but this was 7 years ago, when I was still training very very much, my technique was a lot better, and I just got a brand new super slippery Aquasphere Winter Skin. That suit was made of Teflon, I guess and was the best pool suit I’d ever tried. Endless glide. Wasn’t build to last, wasn’t particularly comfortable, cold as anything, but the glide the glide the glide. They came out with a new version which isn’t as good, so when I’m asked for good pool suits, I usually say “the old Aquasphere”.
That is, until now!
After 2 more attempts, I managed to do 25 meters in the Orca with just a push off and a leg kick. Since I’m not as good a swimmer as I was 7 years ago, and my buoyancy wasn’t perfect, that means that the SCS coating on the Free must be as slippery as that Aquasphere suit was. And the Free is a much better suit; it feels stronger yet more supple, it is warmer and more comfortable to move in. The repeated 50 meters swims confirmed what I suspected; I was consistently swimming them in 2.5 strokes per 25, around 55 seconds for 50 meters, so faster, with fewer strokes, and more comfort, than any other suit I’d tried before. The Orca Free is without a doubt the best pool suit I have ever worn.
It better be – damn thing costs $495 USD (420 EUR / 385 GBP)! That’s made to measure Oceaner type money. That’s a lot of money for a suit. But if it’s perfect for both pool and depth, it might be worth it. So I tested it in the ocean… I have yet to thaw.
OK, that’s not entirely fair: where I live in the UK the sea is 15 C / 59 F, which is cold no matter how you measure it! I would never consider going into the water even in a 3mm, let alone a 2mm without a hood. The suit is not made for these conditions – but I wanted to be thorough. Thing is, what got me worst was brain-freeze; I reckon with a cap on I would have been fine for longer. As it was, I stayed in for about 15minutes without shivering and tested it to freefall (lovely) and buoyancy loss (minimal). Because there is absolutely no water entry into the suit, I reckon this suit (with a cap) will be great in waters of 24 C / 75F or more. If you need warm-ups, it’s probably nice to have a top over it until you go for the big dive.
And I love the look of it. I know aesthetics aren’t quite as important to some freedivers, but this blue and silver suit is very flattering, the colors are very appealing. I’m not sure if the blue on the arm is different from the blue on the main part for a reason, but it doesn’t annoy me; both are lovely hues and they compliment each other. The graphics are not the best Orca has ever done (I still have a weak spot for the designs they did in 2009 when they went all Maori), but they’re not as strange as some of their more recent outings. One word of warning: it can be quite a revealing suit, so if you don’t want the world to know what your religion is, maybe best to wear two speedos.
So is it the best freediving suit out there?
Yes – if you are in warm waters and/or the pool. It glides for miles and once you’ve wormed yourself into it, you will be entirely comfortable.
Is it worth $495? That’s more personal; if that doesn’t seem like a lot of money to you, then yes, probably, as it’s a great suit with a great look. If you’re a beginner on a budget, or you mostly dive in cold waters, this is probably not your suit, and there are much cheaper pool suits out there that are almost as good.
But I reckon if you use this suit for comps and train in something cheaper, you’ll have something extremely good for years to come. It’s a very special suit, and worth a splurge.
Just be sure to bring thin plastic bags…and possibly an extra speedo.
BUY NOW – orcafreediving.com
- The Orca FREE is available in both MALE and FEMALE fit, with slight variation on design
- A built-in inner gasket prevents water entry and efficiently seals the suit
- High quality 39 Cell Yamamoto together with infinity skin lining for extra flexibility
- Compression construction on the legs and arms to improve performance
- Super Sleek SCS material for improved hydrodynamic properties in the water
- Drainage holes at the bottom of the zipper to release excess water
- Shipped with 2 gloves to prevent suit damage, or tearing when taking on and off
- Standard $495.95 USD (~€420 EUR / ~£385 GBP)
- Customisable (with logos/graphics) $595.95 USD (~€510 EUR / ~£465 GBP)
BUY NOW – orcafreediving.com
Photos by Daan Verhoeven & Georgina Miller
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