Open Water Swimming

10 03 2011

Wow, look’s like Chloe is having a blast skiing! 🙂 Just looking at all that snow makes me shiver. I am CERTAINLY a warm-weather person.

As I mentioned before, I love the beach. Growing up only blocks from the Atlantic Ocean, it was imperative that I learn how to swim. So, rather than allowing their young daughter to wander into the ocean alone, my parents took me to one of the beach-side condos with a pool and signed me up for some lessons. I don’t recall how old I was, maybe 6 or 7, but I refused to put my face in the water. Blowing bubbles? Forget it! Funny how things change…

Fast forward to my freshman year of high school, when I decided to join the swim team. Hey, this is pretty fun, and I’m not terrible at it! From that point on, I was hooked. I joined a summer league right after my first season, and swam year round until I graduated from college.

My senior year of college. Senior swimmers!

One of the cool things about swimming in the summer at the shore is that the ocean is close; so, what a great way to get a second practice in for the day! 8)

Now, we didn’t do this every day, but one of my coaches, Sid Cassidy, was passionate about open water swimming and encouraged his swimmers to get out and try it. Not only does he love the sport, but he’s got an impressive rĂ©sumé  to boot (Head Open Water Coach for the U.S. National Team from 1991-1996,  a member of the FINA Open Water Swimming Committee)! Through his encouragement, I fell in love with open water swimming. I’d rather swim in the ocean any day over a practice in the pool!  And the bigger the waves the better!

I didn't realize I was that intense!

While swimming in Jersey, I competed in numerous open water races. I’ve swam plenty of mile and half mile swims, a 5K, swam on a relay around my island (twice), and represented the Atlantic City Beach Patrol in beach patrol competitions. I can’t get enough of open water swimming, and I think that’s part of the reason why I got into triathlons.

So, this past week, while on Grand Cayman Island, I swam a mile ocean swim with my friend Michelle. Man, if I lived there I would swim a mile every day! The water was crystal clear and the perfect temperature, probably high seventies. The ocean was calling my name!

Steph, come swim!

This may sound hokey, but I just feel so free when I’m out there. Anyhow, though I’m no expert, I thought I’d share a few open water tips with you from my experience.

1) Swim with a partner. This applies to training, not racing (clearly), but it’s safest to have someone out there with you. You never know what will happen out there. So, better to be safe than sorry!

2) Take the time to warm up before the race. Loosen up, and get used to swimming in the ocean/lake/river etc. Take the time to practice in open water before your race too! Don’t let the first time you swim in the open water be your race!

3) Course is key! I think part of the reason why I love open water swimming so much is because I think it evens out the playing field a little. You may be a little slower than someone, but if your course is better than theirs, you have an awesome opportunity to take them!

  • take time before the race to feel the current, especially in swims that aren’t point to point. In and in-and-out swim, you have to have a sense of how fast you may drift so you know where to start along the shore.
  • find a place on the land that you can use to guide your course. So, if its a box course, you’ll want to find  something on the land like a tall building or tree that is in line with the last flag/buoy that you swam around.

To have good course, you need to practice sighting. Sighting is when you lift your head mid stroke to look up and see where you are going. Practice this in the pool, and when you’re out there.

4) Be prepared to get kicked/punched/scratched/swam over/pushed under etc. When you start en masse, this is bound to happen, but don’t let it scare you.

  • One strategy is to get out in front and try and stay there
  • Another is to hang back and let folks pass you
  • Or, start on the outside edges of the pack; there are less people there

5) Draft if you can! Get right behind someone and let them do the work! Click here to read more about drafting.

Here’s an article from a veteran open water swimmer with some of his tips if you’re interested in some more.

Good luck with your training!

Questions of the day:

Do you prefer cold- weather vacations or warm- weather vacations?

Do you prefer pool swimming or open water swimming?