10 tips for open water
Open water tips for beginners
Swimming in open water is a far different experience to that you will have come across when clocking up the lengths in your local pool. For those just starting out in open water swimming, here’s a few tips to ensure that your first open water swim doesn’t feel like being thrown in at the metaphorical deep end.
Train in it
It’s amazing how many people turn up for an open water event never having swum in open water before. Open water swimming is an entirely different discipline and there’s no substitute for experience, so take advantage of every opportunity you have to train in open water and train with groups of people where possible.
You need to look to see where you are going, but the more you look, the more energy you expend. Find a suitable compromise and resist that temptation to look too frequently while still ensuring you are still swimming straight and not off course. Use every surrounding landmark like trees or buildings to help guide you in a straight line when you can’t see the buoys.
Beat the cold
Some races are so cold that you may hardly be able to function. Choose a suitable wetsuit for the conditions you are swimming in, and if necessary use one that covers the arms and legs too. A thicker swim cap made of silicon instead of latex might keep the head warmer, but be careful though as swimmers can overheat too.
Goggles are an absolute must, so buy decent goggles that are not only comfortable but allow you to see well and don’t steam up. One great idea is to put your goggles on first and then your swimming cap over the top – this should prevent them falling off or being knocked off in the mad scramble at the start.
Simply put, learn to breathe on both sides. Not only does this help with sighting on ocean swims down and back along a beach – when the shoreline would be your guide for only half of the race if you only breathed on one side – but you’ll also want to breathe on the opposite side when someone is swimming alongside you to prevent getting a smack in the face or losing your goggles.
Avoid the chafe
Your wetsuit will rub so you need to grease up beforehand to prevent chafe marks. Apply Vaseline or some other waterproof agent to your armpit, neck and inner thighs (but not your goggles!) Your training swims in the same wetsuit will have highlighted those areas where rub is most likely to occur, so take note.
Don’t avoid the draft
Drafting is similar to slipstreaming employed in other sports like F1 or cycling – you gain an advantage by following close behind another swimmer as resistance is reduced. Just make sure you are not drafting behind someone who is actually swimming far slower than you really want to be swimming.
If you see a monster wave coming towards you, don’t panic. The simplest way of dealing with it is not to go over the wave but under it. Fighting against the power of waves will drain you, whereas going underneath it will help conserve your energy for that final stretch when you need it most.
Fuel in your tank
You body needs to be properly fuelled in order to perform at its best in an open water swim. Drink plenty of fluids in the days approaching your event and load up with carbohydrates. If your event involves a lengthy swim, for example 10k or more, you may need to take on energy gels.
Experiment with all kinds of waterproof sunblock to find one that works for you and keeps you safe from the sun’s harmful rays. Remember that waterproof does not mean your sunscreen will work for hours in the water, so try and plan your training sessions to avoid the sun’s peak. Most races will generally have a pretty early start.