The next Otter Aquatics' Bronze Medallion course is scheduled for mid November 2016. Please get in touch with me if you would like to participate. Our website contains further details,
One of the major points of difference between open water swimming and pool swimming is the lack of a black line on the bottom to follow. Indeed, not having to follow a line is one of the great joys of OWS – another is not having to turn every 25 or 50 metres. So, in the absence of a black line, what do we OWSers do to swim straight? The answer is, fundamentally, that we have to think and be conscious of our surroundings. And the thinking is all to do with occasionally lifting one’s eyes to check that our destination, or an intermediary point, is still where we want it to be.
How do we do that? Some swimming theorists believe that an OWSer needs to lift the head immediately after an inhalation; others believe that the head lift should occur just before the inhalation. In my experience, it doesn’t make any difference - either is ok. Swimming beginners learn that we should not lift the head as that causes the hips and legs to drop - and that is true but we must do it in the open water occasionally in order to swim straight. We would otherwise be inclined to cover a much greater distance than we need to and, in a race, this can make all the difference between doing a good time and not. Even in just a casual swim, we probably do not want to wander all over the place.
How far should we lift our heads out of the water? The answer is as little as possible in order to keep to a minimum the added drag and lack of a flat body profile that a head lift brings. Bring just the eyes/goggles out of the water, only enough to see your sighting point.
What is a good sighting point? The best is a fixed natural or artificial structure like a rocky headland, an obvious tree or a building. You may well need to choose a number of sighting points consecutively, especially in a long swim. Remember that it is difficult to see very far when your eyes are at water level. On the Hellespont/Dardanelles swim, the organisers pointed out a succession of obvious sighting points to cater for a significant cross current: radio towers on the far shore to start with, then a huge Turkish flag on a promontory, then the floodlights on a football stadium closer to the destination then, finally, a ship alongside a wharf which was the finish point. In a competitive open water event, such as the swim stage of a triathlon, there will likely be a number of legs, usually separated by buoys/cans. Hopefully these will be large enough and brightly coloured to see at the start of the leg.
There will be some locations where there is no sighting point, such as along a convex or flat shoreline. You may be able to sight on an accompanying boat or paddler, otherwise just do the best you can which is likely to be trying to maintain an equal distance off the shore.
In a competitive open water event, you will likely only need to sight if you are out in front of the pack or out to a side. If you are in the pack, you almost certainly will not be able to see any sighting point at all – so just follow the splash of the person in front of you. In my first open water event, in Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffin, I visited the location many times before the event to instil the sighting points in my mind – but I had no hope of seeing them on the day as there was so much splashing and other distractions (like being kicked and elbowed, goggles ripped off and other fun things).
How often should you sight? This depends largely on the sea conditions, how balanced and symmetrical your stoke is and how relaxed you are. In rough conditions you will need to sight more often as the wind, waves and perhaps the currents will knock you off course more often. And you will likely have to sight when you are on the crest of a wave – because you won’t be able to see your sighting point (buoy, can, tree, building, rocks, etc) when you are in a trough. You may not even be able to see your swimming companions/competitors. And remember that they are experiencing the same conditions as you.
But you probably want some more precise advice, at least to start with and until you can work out your own technique. In calm conditions I tend to sight every twenty strokes to begin with, I then adjust the frequency as I develop more confidence in the conditions – sometimes every five or six in rough conditions and every fifty or even a hundred in perfectly calm conditions*. Just remember the contradictory issues: every time you lift your head, you will slow down and make your stroke less efficient – but if you don’t sight when you should, you will likely swim further than you intend to.
*Sighting every one hundred strokes? Yes, you read this correctly. Try doing it with your eyes closed. This will be part of the topic of the next instalment of OWS techniques: meditation while swimming.
The answer is well, never, actually.
Rather than be depressed by this thought, be positive – it means that there will always be room for improvement. Once you stop consciously thinking about your technique or your stroke, your swimming development will stagnate at best or slowly deteriorate as you slip into bad habits. Even if your fitness improves, it will not compensate for poor technique. An unfit swimmer with great technique is faster than a fit swimmer with poor technique.
For those of us who aren’t young any more, we can’t expect that we will retain the same fitness and strength that we had when we were young. The answer is to constantly improve our technique. I can now swim longer distances at a respectable pace than I could as a young adult; all because of improved technique. In my swimfit group recently, I managed to beat a 20 something extremely fit swimmer with technique that needed considerable improvement. After I thanked her for pacing me, I told her that she should be ashamed that an old bloke three times her age could beat her. Remember what the Tibetan sage said to Johnny English ‘You are not young but with age comes wisdom’.
Your overall aim may well be to swim faster (which is a combined function of fitness and technique), to swim greater distances or to just enjoy it more. All are quite legitimate goals. And there is another one for us oldies - to limit the decline in our performance as we get older. For all of these aims, you also need to concentrate on being relaxed in your mind.
So, for every swimming session, in the pool or the open water, constantly think of different aspects of your technique, but only one aspect at a time – to try to think of the whole lot at once is a recipe for disaster and frustration. Here’s a list (and there may be other bits and pieces): think of your body position (your profile and your alignment), your entry, reach, catch, pull, push, recovery, body rotation, kick, breathing, etc – and then start all over again. The choice is endless. And do it in a relaxed way, even if you are putting great physical effort into it. Knowing that you’ll never reach the end point is actually part of the joy of swimming.
This story was written by a Spanish banker who lost his job and his sense of worth when his bank crashed during the Global Financial Crisis.
‘In the past, I had often promised myself that I would learn to swim, but every time I had abandoned the plan. Now was the moment! I started to learn to swim in a pool in Easter 2013.
'The first few days, when I couldn’t even swim one length of the 25 metre pool, were awful. But I tried not to lose heart. When finally I was able to swim 1000m in one hour, it was incredible for me and I cried for joy.
‘It was the end of summer 2013 and I had never swum in the sea. One day, in September, I decided to do it. I swam 100m from the shore but I had a panic attack and had to return to the beach. But I wasn’t deterred. After that panic attack, I slowly increased my distances - first 100m, then 200m until I was able to swim 1000m in the sea. I also continued training in the pool. Finally, in summer 2014, I did my first open water crossing. When I reached the finish line I couldn’t stop crying. I was very happy, because I had done it! I had discovered a new way to live my life. Open water swimming was my life buoy!’
Thanks to H2Open for this story.
At around 9:15am on Saturday 23rd April 2016, surf lifesavers rescued multiple swimmers from the permanent rip at the northern end of Sydney’s Bondi Beach.
‘It was a pretty miserable day, the beach was closed so we had no flags up and we weren’t really expecting much to happen’, patrol captain, Karen Sheppard said. Then a group of fifteen ocean swimmers were spotted heading towards the water. As they approached, they were advised by the lifesavers not to enter as the beach was closed because of the rough conditions which included a 2-3 metre swell. But, despite the warning, the swimmers entered the surf.
Soon afterwards, when they were 50 metres off the shore, the swimmers found themselves in trouble with a number of them being washed against the rocks by the heavy seas. Immediately, patrol captains Karen Sheppard and Simon King launched a rescue effort. Despite the conditions, a team of lifesavers headed out. Gary Pendergast headed out to assist a swimmer who had been washed onto the rocks, Patrick Kerr and Matthew Brown went to assist on a rescue board, David Tinworth and Jake Hilton went out in an IRB (inflatable rescue boat), and John Rohl and Lisa Croudace swam out with rescue tubes. Once on scene, Patrick supported two swimmers on his board until Matthew arrived and was able to transfer one of the exhausted swimmers onto Matthew’s board so that he could paddle the swimmer back to shore. Due to the severe conditions, Patrick transferred the remaining swimmer into the IRB to be taken back to shore by Dave and Jake.
In the meantime, Lisa had directed the remaining struggling swimmers back to shore.
While she was helping the group one of the swimmers attempted to swim against the rip. Lisa offered her rescue tube to the swimmer but the swimmer refused to take it. John arrived to the group with fins a few minutes later and helped the swimmer negotiate his way through the large swell safely to shore.
All fifteen swimmers were returned to shore and administered first aid. Several of the swimmers suffered serious injuries from being washed against the rocks. All have since made full recoveries.
The challenging conditions and the difficulty of the rescue highlighted the teamwork and skill shown by the North Bondi surf lifesavers, both on the beach and in the water. The team will be presented with their National Award at the next Parliamentary Friends of Surf Life Saving event.
Thanks to Surf Lifesaving Australia for this story.
My comment: the lessons from this event about the folly of venturing into dangerous waters are obvious as are those about never swimming against a rip and not obeying directions of lifesavers. Lifesavers are there to provide advice and, if necessary, conduct rescues often risking their own safety in doing so.
Our remaining 2016 trip offerings:
We will soon head off to Europe for two fabulous swimming trips: the ‘Cycling and Swimming Tour of Lake Constance (Germany, Austria and Switzerland)’ in mid August and ‘Swimming the Fjords and Coves of Montenegro’ in late August/early September. For more information on these and other swimming holidays, please visit our website at http://www.otteraquatics.com.au/swim-tours.html.
And our Australian trip: Iconic and Historic Swimming Places of Sydney. The next planned Sydney tour will be from 14th to 18th November 2016. The price will be approx $1,600 which includes return airfares from Brisbane, four nights accommodation and a few other bits and pieces. If you would like to experience this great trip, a repeat of our March 2016 one, please check out this link (http://www.otteraquatics.com.au/sydney.html) and contact me. The deadline for registration is rapidly approaching - I will need your confirmation by the first week in August.
Our 2017 trip offerings:
Advertising for our 2017 tours is well and truly underway. Let me know if you are interested. Here are the trips on offer. Deadlines for some of them will be the end of December 2016:
Slovenian Lakes and Rivers – swimming the glacial lakes and crystal clear rivers of this jewel of eastern Europe in partnership with Strel Swimming Adventures – tentative dates are 14th to 20th August 2017
Cycling and swimming tour of Lake Constance (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) – a repeat of the 2016 trip – tentative dates are 21st to 27th August 2017
Lake Orta, 'the most romantic of Italy's northern lakes' – a repeat of the 2015 trip – tentative dates are 28th August to 4th September 2017
Iconic and Historic Swimming Places of Sydney – where Australian swimming all began –March and November every year.