Even if you’re a skilled swimmer and can handle laps in the pool with ease, you can get thrown for a loop the first time you participate in an organized open-water swim. That’s because swimming in open water is a totally different experience from swimming in a pool. There’s no black line to follow, no lane dividers, you can’t see the bottom, and you can’t put your feet down.
Whether it’s a lake, ocean, or reservoir, it can cause a lot of anxiety if you don’t adequately prepare for it. Here are some open-water swimming tips and some precautions you should take.
1. Use a wetsuit.
It’s an investment, but a worthwhile one. Wetsuits make swimming easier by keeping you warm and providing a bit of buoyancy. There are generally two styles of wetsuits – sleeveless and full. Wetsuits with full sleeves are the more common choice among professional triathletes. They keep you warmer and more buoyant, but they do tend to be a bit pricier. However, if you’re an experienced swimmer, you may prefer the sleeveless option since it feels more natural to have your arms and shoulders able to move freely and you don’t really need the buoyancy boost.
If you do choose to go with a wetsuit, make sure you practice with it on to get used to the feel of it.
2. Never swim alone.
A swimming buddy keeps you safer and holds you accountable. Choose someone who not only knows how to do the cross-chest carry, but is also strong enough to get you out of the water if something should happen. Being in the water makes things get dangerous quickly, so practice rescue techniques together regularly so they will be second nature.
It’s also always good to check in with a lifeguard before you start your practice. Natural bodies of water are always changing and shifting. The lifeguard will know the current beach conditions and can warn you of any riptides or shark sightings.
3. Stay aware of your surroundings.
Remember that you are in an environment where there are any number of unpredictable factors to consider: wild animals, boats, buoys, other swimmers. It’s crucial to stay alert and take your head out of the water once in awhile. Check the course straight in front of you to be sure there’s not something dangerous in your path. Check your position with the shoreline and make sure you’re heading in the right direction. Also, the water is often quite crowded during races, so be wary of fellow swimmers – watch out for kicking legs.
This will surprise no one, but consistent, frequent practice is the most beneficial thing you can do. The more real open-water swimming experience you get, the better shape you’ll be in for race day. You’ll feel more confident and at home in the open water after you take the time to get to know it a bit. If you’re lucky enough to live near an accessible open body of water, use it. If not, look for some open water swim clinics in your area. And remember – you should NEVER swim alone. Find a buddy or join a class, and get out there and practice.
If you’re looking to improve your swimming skills, look into Swim Jim’s advancing programs to see what’s available near you.