I should start by saying that in many ways, I agree with Scott Zornig - I think that to say that you have swum the Catalina Channel or the English Channel is to say that you did it without a wetsuit and in accordance with the fairly standardised rules that the governing bodies of most marathon swim organisations use to regulate their swims. I also agree with him that most people, with sufficient attention to training, acclimatisation and body fat can eventually make themselves able to swim in open water without a wetsuit. Indeed, I often find myself encouraging people to abandon the neoprene, just because of what I think is the enhanced pleasure of non-wetsuit swimming. But I also feel that not everyone wants to do that for all kinds of reasons, and that this too is a legitimate choice - it's supposed to be a leisure activity, after all. Such a person will never swim the Channel (in the conventional, regulated sense), but they might swim it with a wetsuit on. This still is a fabulous achievement and one which only a tiny proportion of people could even contemplate attempting; it will require hard training, and will still probably be a massive and significant event in that person's life. Scott Zornig argues that the title "marathon swimmer" does not apply to this individual because it is not a "swim". Instead, he proposes describing it as a "Water Adventure" or a "Water Exhibition" in the hope that this will stop people "raining on the parade of true marathon swimming accomplishments."
And I think that it is here that I think we start to see the real source of tension between wetsuit swimmers and non-wetsuit swimmers - the problem of self-misrepresentation. It seems to me that the problem is not that people do these marathon swims in wetsuits, but that some people are not entirely straightforward and open about having done so. Without wanting to name any specifics here, we are all aware of high-profile, media hungry swims that have been extremely quiet about their use of wetsuits whilst at the same time presenting them in such a way that people will assume they are done without one. My reading of Scott Zornig's articles is that he feels that the label "marathon swim" facilitates this misrepresentation, and he wants to reclaim it for non-wetsuit swimming to protect the category. But I'm not so sure that this is the way to go. It seems to me that this title could easily be rehabilitated to include a wide range of impressive swimming achievements, if this occurred alongside the standardised inclusion of wetsuit / non-wetsuit status; I think that we should broaden the definition rather than narrow it. And perhaps the only way that this can be done is by being more accepting of wetsuit swimming as one part of our amazing sport; making people feel ashamed of swimming with a wetsuit (by likening it to illegal doping, for example) will only make it harder for people to be straightforward about the kind of swim they have chosen to do, and to celebrate those swims. Even with the wetsuit, a long swim is a long swim, and I am uncomfortable with the notion of a "true" form of marathon swimming to which everything else is subservient.
It's also worth noting that misrepresentation is not confined to the wetsuit issue. I know of plenty of people who list a Channel swim on their sporting CVs without also noting that it was a relay crossing; I also know of someone from this year who has told people that he completed the Channel when in fact he was pulled out 2 miles from the French coast. These are irritating moments, not least because lying is always irritating, but also because, in most cases, the misrepresentation is entirely unnecessary - the vast majority of the non-swimming (and swimming) population consider a Channel relay to be just as outlandishly difficult and impressive as a solo, or quite rightly consider a solo Channel swim that takes you so close to France to be an awesome achievement by any standards.
I don't know what the answer to all this is. To those who are misrepresenting their swims - either because of wetsuits, or whatever else - I would say, get a grip and be a grown-up. And to those who see wetsuit swims as a threat to non-wetsuit swims, I would ask what is at stake in maintaining that distinction so thoroughly, and what might the consequences of that be in terms of alienating potential new members from taking up the sport? I want more people in the water, not fewer, whatever they're wearing.