The beginning and end of any open water swim can be the areas where valuable time and maybe even energy is lost. Whether you are a regular in the water, or just starting out, the tips below will help to ensure you’re well prepared and that the start and finish of any event is much more relaxed.
Acquaint yourself with waves
It all starts with practice. Plan plenty of open water training before a big event to get used to the possible conditions you’ll experience on the day. If possible, train at the event’s location to acclimatise yourself with that environment. Always swim with others and, if possible, make sure a lifeguard is on duty before heading out.
Scout the surf
Whether training, or taking part in an event, start your swim by standing on the beach and observing the surf. Study any noticeable currents. Rip currents will appear as a smooth section in the water. To spot a current, note which way other swimmers or surfers are getting pulled or the direction in which they are floating.
Once you have looked at the conditions, you’ll want to make sure there are no surprises on your route into the ocean. Wade in so that you are thigh-deep in the water to see what the ocean floor is like or if there is a drop off or any holes or rocks to be aware of. Sometimes, standing in the water can tell you when a strong current is present.
Now you’re ready to start your swim. Ask yourself: does your event begin with a running start from the beach? Or do you begin already in the water? You’ll prepare yourself and gain confidence by practicing your entries as you’ll do them on the day of the event.
Go for it
If you start on the beach, run through the water until it reaches about knee-height. At that point, do a high-knee run, lifting your legs out of the water. When the water is above knee-height, it’s time to start dolphin diving.
A dolphin dive is a shallow dive where you push forward off the ground with your legs and dive just under the surface of the water. When dolphin diving, keep your head tucked between your outstretched arms with your biceps squeezing your ears. Do not look up. This is important for both speed and safety. Start with shallow dolphin dives and push off the ground each time to propel yourself forward.
Dive under the waves breaking in front of you. As soon as the wave starts to form, dive deep enough to touch the sand with your fingertips. Find the calm spot under every wave and let the wave go over your head. Push forward off the ground so, rather than coming straight up, you continue to move forward the entire time.
If another wave is crashing, take a deep breath and repeat the dive and forward push-off. Usually, waves crash in water that is shallow enough for you to touch the ground.
The worst thing you can do is run out to knee-height water and stand there as waves crash on you, knocking you backwards and using up energy. Never stand upright once past knee-height water. Keep your head down and dive forward.
The correct sequence is: Run, high knees, dolphin dives, swim straight through. Once you start running, stick to this pattern and you’ll be at the first buoy in no time. Avoid a sequence of: Run, stop and turn your back on the waves, wander out a little farther until the waves come again, stop and turn your back again and get knocked toward the shore.
How do I get back to shore?
When you’ve made it to the home stretch, pick a spot on shore near the finish and use it to swim toward. As you reach the area where waves are forming, use their momentum to help push you forward. Instead of a slight turn to the side to breathe, turn your head a little more and peek behind you to see what’s coming. If a wave is nearing, swim harder and try to gain momentum from it. Above all, stay calm.
Continue to swim once the waves are crashing. If one is about to crash on you, take a deep breath, put your hands over your head in the dolphin-diving position and bodysurf back to shore. Continue to hold your breath and maintain a streamlined position with your arms outstretched in front of you.
If you don’t catch a wave, still try to use their momentum to push you forward. When you can touch the ground, begin dolphin diving. Swim until your belly is on the sand. The waves and white water will continue to push you to the shore, eliminating the need to expend energy running through the water.
The more practice you have with open water, the calmer and more confident you’ll be during an event, helping to ensure a strong start and finish to your race.