A few days ago, I finally managed to get into the ocean for my first open water swim of the season! It was great to get in the water, shake off the cobwebs and really enjoy a swim. But as every other swimmer, I was concerned about a few things regarding the open water:

– Water temperature: On the west coast of the US, the water temperature can be a bit cold. Even over the summer, it is still cold. It depends on where along the coast you are in the water. The surface temperature can be warmer, but it drops off as soon as you leave the surface. This is because the currents on a western coastline, north of the equator, flow from north to south.
During my swim, the water temperature was in the low 50ºs Fahrenheit, and getting in the water was the hard part, as always. Once in, my body adjusted quickly for areas like my face, hands and feet. The air temperature however, was in the 90ºs though, so it was great to get in and cool off.

– The open water: There is no “side of the pool” to stop and take a break in the ocean. You can tread water for a short period of time, but in general, you will have to keep swimming until you reach the shore. Look at the bright side! It’s a great way to train and work on your stroke! You will push yourself harder in order to reach the shore and get that well deserved rest.

– Focus points: In the swimming pool, you usually focus on the line at the bottom of the pool in order to swim straight. That’s not possible in the open water. So you’ll end up concentrating on different things such as the next turn, the finish line, or the floating buoys. It is important to be able to sight so that you can swim as straight as possible. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself off course, and might end up swimming in circles. The best ways to sight is to quickly pop your head up as part of your stroke. As you put one hand in the water to take a stroke, you can use the downward force to pop your head up. It may take a few strokes to sight on your target, but eventually it will work out. Another technique is to use the things around you. If you are swimming along a pier, you can use the pier as your sighting tool so you won’t need to look straight ahead.

– Currents and swells: It is always crucial to know the area where you’re going to swim. If you are swimming in a new place, it’s a good idea to talk to other swimmers or lifeguards to get the understanding of how to swim safely. If you have to swim against the current, it’s better if you do that in the first half of your swim. That way, on the second half, when you’re a little tired, you will have an easier swim.
Be prepared for swells that will splash on your face while you’re turning your head to take a breath. You may need to close your mouth suddenly or you will end up taking in salt water. If there are swells on one side, you may need to switch or limit your breathing to the other side. Practicing bilateral breathing during your training will help you prepare for this situation.

– Underwater creatures: Some people do worry about all of the sea life and critters in the ocean. Again it’s important to know the area where you’re swimming and to consult as necessary, but most importantly, never panic! If you feel something come in contact with you, be sure that all the commotion will most probably scare it off.

Each open water swimmer worries about some of these facts at some point; the only solution is to adapt. The more you do it, the more you’re used to it!

I was swimming in the same location I have swum many times in the past. I belong to a group of swimmers who try to swim together whenever we can. Swimming in a group is a good idea if you are uncertain about the area or the distance that you want to swim.

I thought my swim was great! I swam 2 miles in a little less than an hour and enjoyed the change from the pool. Adjusting my swim and sighting on a target is great. I could hear some sea lions that like to hang out near the pier. They didn’t come near me for a visit, and merely did their usual sounds and bellows.

I highly recommend an OWS as part of your training. You will gain much more confidence as a swimmer and enjoy the challenge. Next time, I hope to report on an OWS at night when there is a full moon. That should be cool!

Image source: everymantri.com

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