The top five ocean-swimming strokes
1. Swell Runners
The swell is rolling, unbroken waves moving towards the beach in deep water. As the swell rolls underneath you while swimming you get a natural lift towards the shore. To maximize these lifts try to run with the swell as much as possible.
Why? To do this, as you feel the swell underneath you, start to increase your stroke and kick rate to run with the water for as long as possible. If you gain half a body length without doing anything, you might get a whole body length, or more, if you use this technique.
2. Sighting Behind You
We’ve all learnt to look ahead to see where we’re swimming, but sighting backwards is just as important to ocean swimmers.
Why? The most important reason to sight backwards is to know exactly where the waves are at all times. If you know where the waves are, and what stage of breaking they are at, you can be proactive in your action to avoid them (such as diving under) or attack them (by riding the swell runners or by bodysurfing).
There are two ways to do this:
1. As you’re swimming, look back under your armpit as you take a breath. This is good for quick glimpses while maintaining speed.
2. Or, roll onto your back and while backstroking, lift your head, looking back over your toes. Keep your core switched on and increase your kick rate to keep your lower body from sinking. This technique is great to help you catch your breath.
3. Sets and Lulls
Sets are groups of waves and lulls are the gaps between the sets. The number of waves in a set and the length of the lull are all dependent on the type of swell.
Why? Observe these two factors before you enter the water and use them to time your swim. When leaving the shore wait for the last wave in the set then start your swim in the lull to avoid waves. Rip currents will also pulse (move faster) after a set of waves has brought more water to the beach.
When returning to shore you can choose the lull to minimise the waves you’ll encounter aor the set for waves to body surf.
Knowing the average number of waves in a set, and counting them as you dive under them, will also allow you to know when you’re reaching the last wave if you catch a set on the way out and are feeling tired or anxious.
4. Arm reach to stand
This is a simple technique that helps you avoid standing up in deep water before reaching shore where you either have to start swimming, costing you more energy, or push inefficiently through to the shallow water.
Why? This helps you to continue swimming to shore until the water depth is no deeper than your waist. From this depth you can efficiently dolphin-dive to the shallow water, wade, then run up the beach.
To do this, as you approach the shore, start stretching an arm out straight towards the sea-floor every few strokes (an outstretched arm is less than the length of your legs). If you don’t touch the sand then keep swimming. If you do touch the sand then you know its shallow enough to stand and dolphin-dive.
Drafting isn’t just for cyclists. In ocean swimming you can save up to 40 per cent of your energy by drafting behind a swimmer.
Why? The best way to draft is to find a swimmer who is slightly faster than you and to position yourself directly behind them, close enough to just miss touching their feet. This will get you into the slipstream they’re creating as they break through the water and it will feel like they are pulling you along.
Drafting will have you swimming faster and using less energy which can be used to finish fast and even sprint off the swimmer in front of you.