Coping Strategy for Rough Water Swimming

When the Going Gets Rough

  1. Dive under the waves going out, just before or as they break, and do not try to swim over them or wade through them. Unless they are small waves (below your waist), dipping below and through the wave will prevent you from getting pushed backwards to the start line! If you can’t get out, you’re going nowhere. Once you’re out of the breakers (usually in the first few metres), the water generally settles.
  1. If you have dipped under the waves on the way out, chances are you can use them to your advantage on the way in. It’s time to get body-surfing! The ability to catch a wave will literally launch you up the field, but you need to practice this skill beforehand to be sure of executing it in a race situation.
  1. If you are lacking confidence in open water, take the outside line. The small amount of time you will save trying to swim taking the busy shortest line before getting to the first buoy is not worth it. Choosing the outside line will save you from getting punched, being swum over, having your feet grabbed, etc. Some of this will happen at the crowded start anyway, but you can cut down on it by not going to the centre of the pack. Clearwater means a calmer swim.
  1. Following on from point 3, take wide turns around the buoys. While everyone else is trying to come as close to the buoy as possible around a turn, take the road less travelled and go wider. Again, cutting inside is not going to save you much time and you will have more clear water around the outside, meaning you may actually save time as no one will grab you.
  1. Read the waves. Breathe only to one side to avoid swallowing water, if you are swimming across shore. If you can see the waves coming towards you on one side, breathe to the other side until you can get around the next buoy. A change in swim direction will mean a mouthful of wave if you do not make the switch to breathing on the other side. Therefore you need to be competent at breathing both sides as the waves could be on your left or your right, so practice this in training. Bilateral breathing is your friend!
  1. Before the race starts, pick out an obvious marker on the shore that you can aim towards at coming into the finish. The exit runway is often obscured until the last minute, especially in choppy water, so use a landmark such as a tree or a house that is more obvious from afar.
  1. Choppy water means it’ll be even more turbulent than normal, so there’s no point trying to do overly long glides and ‘catch hold’ of the water. It will be too turbulent to latch onto properly, so the most effective open water technique is to maintain a high arm turnover. This means you will be able to plough through waves with minimum disruption to your swim stroke and maintain a good speed regardless of water conditions.   
  1. Time your sighting. Swimming through waves you’ll get water highs and lows. Pop your head up to look at the crest of a wave to spot the next buoy. If you try to sight in a low, there will be nothing to see, and you’ll find yourself disorientated.
  1. If in doubt, stop for a second and regain composure and your bearings. There is far more to be lost by swimming in entirely the wrong direction, than taking a moment to re-set.
  1. Check the current beforehand and at regular intervals during your swim. It may drag you one way when you think you’re heading the other, and you’ll need to adjust your route accordingly.

              Rest assured, anything too crazy, and the swim will be cancelled!

Written by Alice Hector, Zone3 Ambassador