ARMS-UP: How the World’s Fastest Wetsuit Came to Be
Sometimes solutions are the hardest to see when they're right in front of you. At ROKA, we’re always looking for those solutions, and our favorite breakthroughs are the ones that leave us scratching our heads and saying “Why didn’t we think of this before?”
When we introduced our patented ARMS-UP wetsuit design with the Maverick X in 2016, it was one of those breakthroughs.
Is Shoulder Restriction Inevitable?
Anyone who has swum in a traditional wetsuit is familiar with the feeling of shoulder restriction that comes with it. That feeling comes in varying degrees, ranging from mildly uncomfortable constraint (often early in a swim) to outright lethargy in the shoulders (typically late in a race). Most serious triathletes and open water swimmers have spent time attempting to minimize this with some combination of the right model of suit, the right size, the way they put on their suit, or what they wear underneath. Some have even gone so far as to modify their swim stroke to accommodate their suit.
For years, eliminating this shoulder restriction has been a holy grail for wetsuit manufacturers, including ROKA. Historically, the problem has been attacked from the angle of better materials—more flexible neoprene, thinner neoprene, etc. When we launched our original Maverick Pro in 2013, one point of focus was the often-overlooked fact that the textile liners on the inside of a wetsuit actually have more restrictive stretch profiles than the neoprene, and therefore have a greater impact on suit flexibility than the rubber itself. This focus on liners, combined with the principles of centerline buoyancy introduced in that debut suit, made it a faster and more natural-feeling wetsuit than anything that had come before it.
Feedback for the original Maverick Pro was better than we ever could have hoped for, from pros to beginners to professional gear junkies. But it left us wondering: Will we be able to improve on this?
The Light Bulb Turns On
But it wasn’t even close—they weren’t just a little better than traditional suits, they were a lot better.
“We asked questions like, ‘Is there anything obvious that we're missing? Are there any unchallenged assumptions here?’” said Mark Stephens, a former national champion swimmer and ROKA's VP of Product Development. Stephens comes from a product design background where human-centered, ground-up thinking like this is fundamental. “Eventually, as we thought about those basic questions, we said ‘Wait a minute. Why does a wetsuit have essentially the same pattern as a t-shirt?’ And of course it’s because everyone was building from what they already knew when the first wetsuits were developed—but that’s not at all what’s best for swimming.”
So we started prototyping arms-up suits. We did a lot of experimenting and iteration to dial in questions like how far the arms should be up, but from the very first prototype, we knew we were onto something. “When we got those first prototypes, we were excited but nervous to try them out. Would they be better or would they just be weird?," Stephens said. "But it wasn’t even close—they weren’t just a little better than traditional suits, they were a lot better. And we were sitting there going, ‘How did we not think of this before?’”
And it wasn't just us—ARMS-UP has been a revelation to everyone from world champion athletes like Gwen Jorgensen and Javier Gomez Noya to age groupers from a range of athletic backgrounds. "The arms-up pattern finally gives the shoulder the freedom that swimmers want," said Gomez. "The difference was night and day! The suit was a LOT more flexible," wrote one age group reviewer. Similar sentiments have been echoed repeatedly by athletes of all abilities.
Bringing ARMS-UP to Every Maverick Wetsuit
One thing we pride ourselves on at ROKA is the way we diffuse our technology throughout our product lines and make our best ideas available to people at every price point. After the overwhelming response to the Maverick X in 2016, we brought ARMS-UP to the Maverick Pro II and Maverick Elite II in 2017. In 2018, we added the technology across our entire Maverick lineup, from the entry-level $350 Maverick Comp II to the torpedo-fast $925 Maverick X. We’ve also introduced it in our short-sleeved Viper swimskins and used an updated version of it in our short-sleeved Gen II tri suits to ensure they're still great for riding and running.
As ROKA co-founder Kurt Spenser is fond of saying, “confidence is the ultimate performance enhancer.” We embrace this wholeheartedly, and we love equipping athletes with gear that not only performs better but also gets out of their way and helps them be more confident. Whether it’s a pro saying “I can swim naturally for the first time,” or a rookie saying “I feel more at ease in open water now," our whole team is incredibly proud of what we've achieved with ARMS-UP technology.
And with it integrated across our whole lineup, more athletes than ever will get to experience a more confident, faster swim than ever before.