Strategies for Ocean Swims

June 22, 2021 4:43 pm / Category: Uncategorized

Assess the conditions

As summer approaches, many triathletes are swimming in open water to prepare for upcoming races. Training in the pool is great to work on distance and technique. It is important to incorporate ocean water training to be confident in the conditions on the day of the race. Practicing a few swims at the race site will help you prepare mentally by becoming familiar with the surrounding environment and potential hazards. The more experience you have swimming in different ocean conditions, the more prepared you will be for race day.

Assessing ocean conditions is critical for successful swimming. One week before your event, check out the surf report! It is important to mentally and physically prepare for your upcoming ocean swim. is a great site for accurate forecasts.

 Getting in the water before the race has several benefits. First, you can assess the bottom to look for any inshore holes or rocks to avoid while entering during your race, the last thing you need is to sprain your ankle or twist your knee. Second, you can assess the power of the waves while also assessing the strength and direction of the ocean current. Assessing the current is one of the most critical things to do before an open water swim. This will help you gauge where you start on the beach to make the best water entry to hit the buoy without having to swim up the current. Assessing the current takes time and experience in the water, spend time getting comfortable in the ocean and getting a ‘feel’ for it. Third, taking a quick dunk in the water will help to avoid that initial shock when you hit the water at the start of the race. Lastly, I suggest asking local lifeguards about any possible hazards to be aware of during your water entry and exit to avoid possible injury.

Water Entry

Arguably, one of the most important parts of a competitive ocean swim is your water entry, not the amount of time you put in swimming laps. A good water entry starts with gauging were to enter the water after assessing the current.

A quick and efficient water entry through the surf line will separate you from the rest of the pack. Use high knees when running out through the surf line. As it starts getting more difficult to run, you want to start ‘dolphining’ through the surf line. ‘Dolphining’ is a technique used to get through the ‘impact zone’ efficiently. Start  ‘Dolphining’ in waist-deep water by diving with both arms over your head, grab the sand bottom to pull yourself forward while bringing your legs underneath your body to explode out of the water through the surf. Continue ‘Dolphining’ until the water gets too deep, then begin your swim. Swim with your head up through the surf line to keep an eye out for waves. In the case of an approaching ‘set’ of waves, it is always safer to swim toward the wave than away from it. Once past the waves, periodically take a few strokes with your head up to keep your eye on the buoy marker.

Rip currents

Rip currents can make or break you. While we are all taught to ‘stay out of rip currents’, these currents can be used to your advantage in getting through the impact zone more efficiently. Swimming with the outgoing rip current can save time and energy to swim faster through the surf line where waves generally don’t break. This technique should only be used by experienced ocean swimmers with good ocean knowledge and awareness.

 Water Exit

Once you round the buoy, use landmarks on the beach to swim straight. Make sure to avoid any rip currents swimming towards shore, getting stuck in a rip will cost you time and energy. If you find yourself swimming in sandy or foamy water not making any progress, chances are you are in a rip current. Swim parallel to shore to the blue water, then continue swimming towards shore.

In the impact zone, keep your head on a swivel by turning on your back or looking over your shoulder to look for oncoming waves. Bodysurfing can save a lot of time and energy in the impact zone. This takes time and experience to learn but can be a huge asset at the end of a swim. Continue swimming until your hand hits the sand, then start with high knees to exit the water. Remember, running is faster than swimming. Don’t fight the current, it will be faster to run back than to fight the current swimming.

Tips for ocean swims

  •       Check conditions before your swim
  •       Minimize your time in the ‘impact zone’
  •       Use landmarks to help swim straight
  •       Avoid rip currents on your way to the beach
  •       Practice ‘ins and outs’ to have faster water entries and exits
  •       Always swim with a partner

Clay Simons

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