For Female Competitors

Ironman Triathalon

Fall 2017

Unaffiliated with Speedo

This 14-week project was to design a product for the Ironman World Championships in Kalua-Kona, Hawaii. The triathlon consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run. The product I designed is intended to improve female competitor's time in the 2.4-mile swim by augmenting women's natural advantage in buoyancy.

Men have a clear advantage in the Ironman, but are beaten out by women in the initial swim section. Though only a 14.4-minute difference, this is the biggest gap in the entire competition, and women are drastically ahead. This is primarily due to biological differences in these sexes including body fat deposits. Fat weighs less than muscle and women are biologically predisposed to having more body fat than men.


Natural Body Fat Deposits

Best Placing for Additional Buoyancy

During product testing, I understood that it's better to augment the women's natural buoyancy rather than offset it. I found that the female body tips unnaturally when buoyancy is offset. Rather than reshape the body, I decided to augment it.



This unique plant retains pockets of air when it is fully submerged. This provides the plant with buoyancy and is due to the structure of its leaf.

The tiny hairs on the leaf surface are hydrophobic hairs, with a hydrophilic tip. This attracts water to the surface and traps air between the tip and the surface of the plant.


The material development provides additional buoyancy to the female body. By using biomimicry, we are able to provide a low-tech solution for this increase, creating a risk aversion from the potential of being banned by the Ironman Committee.


Permeable Hydrophilic Coating

Trapped Air Bubbles

Hydrophobic Coating on Heat Set Lycra


Sketches laying out possibilites early in the design phase.

I tested out buoyancy impacts by placing pool floats on my body in various combinations. Ultimately I found the best area for added buoyancy was the lower back and thighs.

I mapped out the lines of non-extension onto a bodysuit using a Sharpie to view placement, and then with duct tape to test durability.

After buoyancy testing and lines of non-extension mapping, I ideated on the placement of buoyancy on the swim skin.

I chose the most successful designs and tested them with fabric simulations in buoyancy, heat expulsion, and compression. 

© Anna Violette 2020

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