10 Open Water Swim Tips Every Triathlete Needs

Whether you’re a seasoned triathlete or formerly tri-curious and about to dip your toes into some very deep water, the swim leg of a triathlon strikes fear into the heart of many athletes.

Just take a look at the swim start pics of any triathlon, and you’ll see stressed and fearful faces.

If you feel like a fish out of water when it comes to open water swimming, then read on, because we did a round-up of some of the best OWS tips from athletes who have been there, swam that, and are wearing their finisher shirts with pride.

  1. Train in your wetsuit so that you get used to the feeling and don’t panic on Race Day. – Leonie M.
  2. Make sure you practice sighting. The shortest path between two points is a straight line, and good sighting will save you time and energy. – Wesley S.
  3. Get a few real time practice swims before Race Day, in your wetsuit and in cold water. – Britt S.
  4. Start practicing in the waves. The more comfortable you are in the ocean, the lower your heart rate which helps protect core body temperature. Derrick F.
  5. Make sure you find a regular breathing rhythm – whether it is breathing every 2, 3 or even 4 strokes. The key with breathing is 1) not to hold your breath and then breathe in when you need air and 2) not to blow out all your air when your face is in the water… both of these cause you to take a gasping breath.
    You want to blow out slowly while your face is in the water so that you can take a gentle breath in. Blowing bubbles into the water is however essential when swimming.
    If you have a tendency to be a bit nervous in the open water or the thought of it makes you anxious, then practice slowing down your breathing rate when you are training, slowing down your breathing lowers your heart rate which will reduce anxiety.
    There is loads of prep you can do in a pool for open water but it is still essential to try and get in the sea at least a couple of times before the day and practice with your wetsuit on.
    Practice getting used to breathing on both sides so that if there are waves or a current from the one side you are able to breathe on the other side if need be. – Fritha J.
  6. Look for rips that will assist with your swim start. – Derrick F.
  7. Big Bay waves are not as powerful as Durban waves. Unless the swell is really big and the tide very high, you won’t be facing back-breaking dumpers, but still treat the surf line with caution. Dive underneath a breaking wave as deep as the white foam is high, or at least two thirds of it. If you don’t, the wave might still suck you up and play ragdoll with you. Avoid being right behind someone that is about to go through big foamies. If they do it wrong, it will be like a WWE wrestler slamming into you. – Frank S.
  8. If you’re a nervous swimmer, stay on the side at the back of the bunch. Stay calm, breathe slowly. – Ashley V.
  9. If the event has one on their schedule, make sure you do a pre-race practice swim so that you can check out the conditions, familiarise yourself with the route, and get a feel for the water. – Gary M. (Note: CHALLENGECAPETOWN will have a practice swim session on Saturday, 9 November.)
  10. Don’t get tumbled on your exit. Once you are in the surf line, look behind you when taking breaths. Breaking waves have the knack of creeping up and throwing you like you are weightless. If a breaking wave intimidates you with its size, don’t try to ride it with lacking body surfing skills. Put your hands over your goggles, drop below the surface and let it run over you. – Frank S.