We live on a uniquely blue planet. Water covers about 71% of our Earth and nearly 97% of our water is Ocean. Naturally, this is where swimming began - in the open water. Although, somewhere along the story of time humans lost a great connection with the oceans and fear was instilled. This is a highly-relatable sentiment for a land-based athlete coming to triathlon or open water swimming for a new challenge. Largely, this challenge is likely getting the courage to face the open water, right? Fear is a learned thing, and thus can be unlearned, too.
Mind Over Matter
The water may be daunting for you at this point, whether it will be your first experience in open water or your second or third season of racing triathlon. The magnificent news is that your first bit of homework takes place in the comfort of your home, your car, anywhere that you can find some quiet time to spend in your own head. Your mind has significant power over circumstantial stress and fear. Given that, let’s discuss how we can remain comfortable and confident in/around/on the open water.
Spending some time better understanding how the water moves, it’s patterns, sounds, smells, etc, allows your mind to expect and accept the water’s dynamic nature. Sit down on the beach or grass next to your local body of water and soak it up for a few minutes. Take notice of where the surf breaks in relation to the beach. Count how many seconds rest between each wave breaking, as well as how many waves are in each set before the lull between sets. While these things will change day to day, this is an exercise that you should do before each swim so that you know the current conditions at hand before entering the water. Having this information will provide massive confidence when entering and exiting the surf, knowing when and where the next wave may break.
Next, it’s time to get wet, but before we do I want you to look around at your surroundings on land. Pick out a couple large/tall landmarks that you can use to reference while in the water. At times swimming in the open water can feel like you’re not moving anywhere, only seeing water, but if you can use an object on land to show you how far you’ve swum or how far you have to go, it can be incredibly rewarding mentally. Beyond this, having multiple reference points will add to your navigational success in the water.
Each entrance into the open water is different, from rocky to muddy, to smooth and gradual sandy bottoms. Just as we took the time to better understand how the water is moving by watching the waves, our goal now is to walk into the water to investigate how the floor of the sea presents itself where you are. Look out for beach entries that have rocks or big pits in the sand, as well as steep drop offs once you enter the water. This can easily start things off on the wrong foot. Physically walking through the water until your fully submerged will instill confidence and the tactical knowledge necessary to enter the water safely and without a doubt of what is out there in the deep blue.
Onward and Upward
Now that you have a greater understanding (and hopefully appreciation) of the water and how it moves, you can spend more time getting in and experiencing the dynamic adventure available to us every day, for FREE! These few mental devices are the foundational pieces necessary to begin exploring the open water and preparing confidently for your next ocean adventure or race. In my next article “Intentional Swimming”, I’ll elaborate on key skills and tactics for open water swimming success.
Long may you swim,
Bryan is a professional open water swim coach based out of Los Angeles. Bryan coaches his unique methodology around the US, as well as writes monthly swimming articles for Triathlete Magazine, Active.com and Ironman.