Ten skills to slay ocean swimming

You can swim in the pool but when you get to the sea, woah! It’s a different story. You look out from the beach and there are waves, it’s choppy, you can see the wind is pushing the water into currents and you wonder how you’re going to be able to deal with that. 

Don’t ignore the reality of swimming in the sea.  It’s harder, challenging,  more of a workout and there’s added risk – but yeah it’s heaps more fun when you get confident.  

First of all, everything you learn about good freestyle and practice at the pool is tested in the open water but everything you learn about freestyle has to be put into practice in the sea.  

When the water is moving around and the waves are crashing into your face, yes things are going to be messy but the more you can keep your technique tight, the better, faster and easier things will be.  

Here’s ten things to work on to make open water swimming in the rough ocean manageable and enjoyable:  

  1. Cut through and keep in control, don’t bob around like a cork. Swimming in rough ocean conditions means you can be tossed around like a cork if you don’t take control. Yes, it’s a workout and yes, it’s hard to keep swimming fast in rough conditions. You have keep moving forward to maintain momentum, to cut through the waves and to keep in control. When a big wave comes, from any direction, decide early to dive underneath or cruise over the top, but keep moving and don’t stop.
  2. Some stretching before you dive in is advisable because you may have to deal with forces that push and pull you around in ways that you don’t normally deal with. You’re going to be arching your back more than usual to see where you’re going and you may have to lift your head higher to breathe in, so stretch your back and move your neck around a bit. Your elbows need to higher in the rough water to clear the waves, so stretch those arms behind your back or hold your elbow behind your head.   
  3. You need a higher stroke rate than normal. And you need to kick more than you might otherwise in smooth calm conditions. And you have to make sure that you never, ever stop kicking. You have to keep moving forward and in charge of your own direction. Keep your speed up and don’t settle for bobbing around in the water like a cork because that means a loss of control and could make you a bit seasick as well. So yes, when you start an open water swim in rough conditions you know you are going to be getting more of a workout and you’ll be using more energy.   
  4. Focus on your technique and trying to do everything (as much as possible) correctly. Sometimes swimmers say things like: “Just crash and bash your way through” but that is understating what they themselves are doing. They are staying strong in their core and maintaining a stable platform for all their levers to operate effectively. Yes, sometimes you will crash through a wave and sometimes the wave will roll over you completely but whatever happens you have to remain long, straight and ready to start your next stroke and keep kicking. Hold your body as still as possible. The idea is to cut through the water, the chop and the waves, not get thrown around by them. So that means a you need a nice tight straight body position, not a loose core that’s not supporting your arm movements and kick.  
  5. Kicking – do it and a lot more of it than usual. Keep your legs close together, don’t do big or deep kicks, keep them relatively small and fairly fast. Don’t stop kicking at any stage. 
  6. Each arm stroke needs to enter the water with intent. Your arm recovery (when it is in the air moving back to the front) has to be quick, real quick. Spear your fingers in first, followed by your arm and grab the water nice and high, way out in front of you. A faster stroke rate doesn’t mean missing out on a powerful catch at the start of every stroke. This is the most important part of the freestyle. You need to be powerful at the front of every freestyle arm stroke, Push forward with hand after entering the water then use plenty of effort to grab the water with your wrist, hold your elbow high and pull through with real muscle strength from biceps, back, shoulders and triceps.  
  7. Breathe in more often, even every arm stroke. You don’t want to be worried about your breathing and you don’t want to left with no air so breathe more often. You can make this part of a really strong freestyle if you focus on pulling hard and straight with the arm that strokes while your head is down. As long as you keep things even, balanced and straight,  this galloping style of freestyle can work for you in the sea. 
  8. Sighting – do it at the top of the waves and don’t look around when you’re in a trough at the bottom of a wave. Look up with arm straight out in front and one arm pulling back hard. Keep kicking when you’re sighting and arch your back rather than drop your legs.
  9. Duck dive under broken waves – waves with white foamy water are broken and you need to be diving underneath. That mean get your arms straight in front with your head below your hips. A duck dive uses your core to move like a dolphin up and down.
  10. Learn to body surf. Coming back into the beach, use the waves to push you as much as possible. When you are swimming in the wave breaking zone, try hard to catch the waves to give you a free boost. You can catch a wave just as it’s breaking if your head is lower than your legs and hips and you are traveling quickly. As soon as you feel the wave picking you up and pushing you along, get your legs up high behind you, one hand out the front and enjoy it.

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