This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to swim on a stretch of the coastline. Normally, when I get to swim in the ocean, it is straight out for some distance and then I turn around and head back in. This time, I chose to swim along the coastline. It presented a few challenges that I haven’t had to deal with for some time.

1. At the beginning, it was simply difficult to get past the surf zone. Where I was swimming, the area was a little more exposed and there was some wind. As a result, the surf zone was a little longer and more challenging. It was important to watch the sets of waves as they came in so that I could pick the best time to get out of the surf zone. Not doing so could lead to an attempt to get past a bigger wave that may be larger and therefore stronger than I can -or want- to handle. So timing can be critical. You’re most probably asking yourself, why on earth am I swimming there if the surf was high?! Well, it’s an amazing location, and usually, only the surf zone (where the waves are breaking) is the tough part, and once I am clear of it, it is calm enough to swim.

2. Another challenging/different experience was the swells associated with swimming parallel to shore. For me, I swam from the shore to approximately 1/4 mile off shore and then did a 90 degree turn. At that point, I was well past the surf zone, but there were still swells from waves that were heading to shore. As a result, I was going up and down as each wave passed. This is not a big deal, but you do need to be prepared for a wave that is approaching as you are going to take a breath from that same side! It did happen and I did get a little more salt water in my mouth than I would have liked. I was prepared for it and managed to keep swimming while coughing and trying to clear my throat. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the concept of bilateral breathing can be key. I was able to switch sides and breathe away from the approaching waves. While I did not know when they might be coming, I could take a cautious breath without fear of taking in more salt water.

3. Finally, this particular shore break had a shallow bottom; it did not get that much deeper even though I was 1/4 mile off shore. As a result, as I was swimming parallel to shore, there were points where I could see the bottom of the ocean. It was a surprising distraction and it did actually cause problems for me. In this type of environment, I am not used to seeing anything other than water followed by darkness as my head is underwater and, with that, there is nothing for my eyes to focus on. With the swells pushing me around and my eyes trying focus on the bottom, it was hard for me to concentrate on my strokes.

It was a challenging experience, but definitely a good one. I had to adjust my swim based on the conditions and adapt to an unusual environment… I learned a lot.

More: What swimmers worry about in open water

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