View Full Version : Thinking about starting open water swimming?

August 27th, 2002, 07:23 PM
Hi Everyone!

I am new to the forum.

I am an avid mile-a-day pool swimmer. A friend is trying to convince me to do some open water swims in NJ. Maybe next summer?

Any advice to get started in open water swimming?

Swimmy :)

August 28th, 2002, 08:37 PM
Try some open water workouts or clinics to get a comfort level with swimming in the ocean. And after you have done some, try a lower key race first. There are a lot of different factors to consider, sighting the course, entering and exiting the water, swimming with other people around you, and varying water conditions(waves, tempature, salt, etc). Its different, but many swimmers(including me)truly enjoy and prefer open water swims. I would suggest not starting your first ocean experience in one of the giant mass start swims, which I presume happen on your coast, as well as on mine.

Good luck.

September 2nd, 2002, 06:23 PM
When weather permits, go to the beach with at least one other swimmer, mark out a mile course, using buildings on the shore as landmarks, swim the course, if you feel good swim back, if not walk or jog back to the start. If the water seems rough or your swim partner is much faster wear fins. Find a nice place for breakfast or lunch after your swim. Maybe you will enjoy it.

September 19th, 2002, 03:01 PM
Open water swimming in the Chesapeake or the ocean has it all over pool swimming, in my not-so-humble opinion, but there are adjustments. Biggest problem with openwater swims for me is staying on course. I've found it helpful to scope out a high building, smokestack or water tower before the event to use as a landmark. Having others around you can be helpful but they can be off course too. Regular heads-ups are a necessity to get your bearings; slipping in a couple or three breaststrokes here & there stop you from losing too much momentum. Good luck!

September 19th, 2002, 03:50 PM
Some other things to consider from someone who is quite aberrant.

I prefer pool swimming. I hate freestyle, and have trouble swimming it for more than a few hundred yards. I have even more trouble swimming it when I don't have walls to push off of and give my arms a good stretch. For this reason, in my pool workouts I mix up the strokes quite a bit more than the die hard distance swimming, triathlete types, who only like to do distance long course. Today for instance practice was long course and of course almost exclusively freestyle. The main set was 4X400 and I ended up doing the middle two 400s all backstroke (my favorite).

I've done five open water swims and one open water workout, and ended up swimming about half backstroke and half freestyle on each. This brought along the problem of sighting. While doing backstroke, I found it really easy to get off course. Even doing freestyle, I found it difficult to stay on course. If you are like me, make sure you are in condition to do at least 50% more than the stated distance (because I'm sure I must've swam 3 miles for the 2 mile course :eek: ). I also noticed that I really missed the walls during these swims. I guess my muscles are trained that they get to stretch out and relax after every 14 or so strokes.

Leonard Jansen
September 19th, 2002, 04:27 PM
Here is a real easy, albeit boring, first step: Go to a fresh water lake that has swimming and swim back and forth in the allowable area. This has several advantages: 1) No waves, shark fears, jellyfish, tides, currents, etc to cope with. 2) You can get used to sighting in a less stressful environment. 3) You can get used to the idea of not being able to see the bottom (i.e. pick a muddy lake). 4) There will be a lifeguard on duty.
Second step: Do a relatively short race in a bay. This adds the shark fear, slight current, slight wave, and salt water factors as well as the race factor. A good example would be the Fenton Island swim (1.3-ish miles) in the Atlantic City area. I agree that you want to stay away from the 500-people-all-going-to-the-same-buoy-at-the-same-time races.
Third step: Ocean race of moderate size.

After that, it's purely up to your desires.

Oh yes, don't wear a wetsuit - it's just not the same experience.

January 3rd, 2003, 09:57 AM
I was looking forward to using the suit as a crutch. Kinda like cheating but legal. Why do you suggest no wetsuit?

Leonard Jansen
January 3rd, 2003, 10:32 AM
Well... let's step carefully here since my mom always said never to discuss religion, politics or wetsuits...

I advocate not wearing a wetsuit because it changes the sport from swimming in open water to paddling in open water. Wetsuits provide buoyancy, warmth and protection from things like jellyfish stings. They also can help compensate for poor technique and can lead to a 0 - 10% speed increase. Personally, I prefer to "do it myself" and not be reliant on that level on technology. I'd rather that we race each other instead of the the wetsuit manufacturing companies racing. I also love the feel of the water on my skin and the constent attention to technique.

That said, I see no problem with you deciding to use a wetsuit. It's your race and if you feel the need for one for whatever reason, then go for it. I also see no issue with races that allow them - it's their race and if I decide to enter as a wetsuitless person and get whomped by the wetties, well, I knew the rules up front. Keep in mind that if you grow "dependent" on a wetsuit to compete, there are some nice races that you won't be able to enter. (e.g. 10k for the USA in Atlantic City, NJ)

But man, oh man, when you come out of that water half-frozen, tired as all get-out, with a few jellyfish stings and plop down on the sun-drenched dock, babbling incoherently to anyone who'll listen and someone hands you a soda or beer... it just doesn't get any better than that.


January 3rd, 2003, 11:03 AM
Well I see your point very clearly but I am a rookie to this sport and I want to get a couple under my belt and it sounds like a wet suit may be the ticket to help. Maybe someday I may go solo but for now the crutch is needed at least in my head.

January 3rd, 2003, 01:34 PM
your body will listen to what your mind says it can do.

September 22nd, 2004, 11:29 AM
Besides swimming I am doing a lot of freediving. Using a wetsuit would be a very natural choice for me. Last year I got a little bit more serious about open water swimming and found out, it's not the same - either to freedive or to swim under the same conditions. You may get the chills after 30 minutes freediving in a 3mm suit in 75F water. But swimming generates enough heat to feel longer comfortable without a suit, actually, my personal best so far was a 3 hour swim without a wetsuit in 65F (freshwater).

Last year I chose to wear a 3mm Jacket (bare legs) to swim the length of Wolfgang See near Salzburg in mid September (10.5 K). Because I went by myself without any support/feeding, etc.. I thought it was safer to go with thermal protection, even though afterwards I knew I could have easily made it without it. On top of that the Jacket was chafing badly on my shoulders.

I recommend to get used to swimming without a wetsuit and use it only for safety reasons when You go by Yourself without support.

Quote from Steve Walker:
"Make sure that all your 'firsts' (first time in cold water, first two hour swim, first swim after being sick, etc.) are accompanied or supervised."

If not supervised, it's still safer to use thermal protection. The ideal case would be supervised, supported swims in a bathing suit.

September 22nd, 2004, 04:13 PM
Wet suits were not allowed when we swam the marathon races. Water temps were from 48 degrees to 85 degrees depending where the race was. In cold water you could not talk and your hands were like claws, but the money was good. In the hot water you could not drink enough fluids. You guys are spoiled with the wet suits.

George Park www.swimdownhill.com

September 22nd, 2004, 05:09 PM
"The ideal case would be supervised, supported swims in a bathing suit."
Swimming 10km without a support crew? Were there boats on the water? How did you eat/drink? Your body needs fuel after an hour. Did you notify anyone of your swim, expected time and route? What was your plan should the weather turn, or if you got a cramp etc?

In the open water, all swims be it training or racing (10kms or longer), must be done with a support crew. If a swimmer has a known medical condition eg heart problems, diabetes then they should have a support crew for 3km and up distances.

The old Rule "Never Swim Alone" applies to Open Water Swimmers as well. Regardless of ability and fitness.
Safety must come first. It is always surprising how many boat craft operators are not aware of swimmers, especially long distance open water swimmers.
I am a strong enforcer of safety in the Open Water. The use of a brightly coloured cap and a support crew are highly enforced in my area.
The debate about wetsuits will continue. If a swimmer is not able to stay warm in the cooler waters yet sets a goal to do a longer swim, there are swims out there that will allow a swimmer to use one. Usually there are two catagories in each age group. With a wetsuit and without a wetsuit.
It is possible to acclimitise and learn how to handle cooler waters. However it varies naturally with each swimmer. Some people seem to be able to handle much cooler waters than another person with the same BMI.
It is tragic to see swimmers succumb to hypothermia. Hypothermia has nasty consequences, yet can be prevented by using a wetsuit to allow a swimmer to reach their goal.
Listen to your body. As part of my teaching, I take swimmers out and we 'feel' the effects of the colder waters. By all means "Listen to your body" When you are not able to breathe easily, your thoughts are groggy, your hands and feet are ice blocks or you are having difficulty sucking your water bottle head in. You do not ever want to get hypothermia. Trust me.
Fina Sanctioned meets do not allow a wetsuit, so for those lean swimmers, they need to 'grow their own'.
If using a wetsuit make sure you are using a wetsuit designed specifically for swimming. There are various models from full body to sleevless to 2 piece (Ideal for diabetic swimmers and triathletes using a pump). They come in a variety of thickness as well. A divers wetsuit, or a waterskiing wetsuit, windsurfing wetsuit will not provide the sleekness nor flexibility required for swimming. It will keep a person warmer but will not be as 'fast' or as comfortable. Properly fitted swimming wetsuits do not chaff or rub or restrict swimmers.
I agree, I prefer to feel the water and 'enjoy' the tactile experiences as well. HOwever I am not opposed to the use of wetsuits either. I have yet to find a wetsuit that 'may propel' a swimmer. Isn't it really the motor inside the body that ultimatley counts?

September 23rd, 2004, 04:32 AM
Swimming 10km without a support crew? Were there boats on the water?

No motor boats and hardly sail boats. Lakes in Austria offer great opportunities for open water swimming.

How did you eat/drink? Your body needs fuel after an hour ...

The water in Austrian lakes is crystal clear and clean as fountain water. I drank approximately 3 Liters of water on my way, without getting any stomach problems. I tugged a bar of chocolate underneath my bathing suit but I never needed it. May be, because I felt too warm in my 3mm neoprene Jacket, I didn't use up a lot of energy.

Did you notify anyone of your swim, expected time and route? ...

I told my wife I would call her immediately after finishing which I did.

What was your plan should the weather turn, or if you got a cramp etc? ...

I swam the long side eastward. The average width is less than 2 K. Most of the time I was within a 10 minutes reach from the shore. This is a picture of Wolfgangsee (http://users.sdsc.edu/~hannes/html/pictures/landscape/pages/wolfgangsee1.html) looking eastward.

In the open water, all swims be it training or racing (10kms or longer), must be done with a support crew ...

My swim was barely above 10k. I agree with You that I will need a support crew for longer swims in the future.

Thanks for Your input :)