Sun, sand and surf – is there anything more quintessentially Australian? Thousands flock to our beaches each year to take part in iconic ocean swims, such as Lorne’s Pier to Pub, Sydney’s Bondi Splash n’ Dash and WA’s Rottnest Channel Swim.
Ocean swimming is becoming more and more popular as a low-impact exercise that’s lots of fun – but it can be a daunting proposition for newbies. So here are a few tips to get you into the deep blue.
Every year people drown in beach, ocean or harbour locations across Australia. However, organised ocean swims have proven to be very safe. Organisations conducting ocean swims do a fantastic job of monitoring conditions by having staff on the beach and in the water to assist anyone in difficulty. And while we’re on the topic of natural dangers, the threat of a shark attack is an (understandable) fear for many would-be swimmers. While shark attacks have increased in recent decades – in 2015 there were 22 unprovoked shark attacks, with 1 fatality in Australia – we need to put the numbers into context. Each year there are around 10 deaths attributed to shark attacks around the world, compared with around 150 deaths worldwide caused by falling coconuts. When considering the number of swimmers, surfers and boats in Australian waters these risks are very, very small. Your own training, preparation and knowledge of beach safety are important to ensure you have a fantastic experience so take the right precautions:
Swim at patrolled beaches
Avoid night swimming
Swim in groups and
Avoid shiny jewellery or swimwear
You’ve got a good set of goggles, a slick new swimsuit and swimming cap. But before you think about diving into the deep blue sea, building endurance and speed in a swimming pool is a good way to start. Seek out an experienced coach to look at your stroke and help you to be more efficient. Some fitness trackers have a feature called SWOLF (an abbreviation of Swim Golf) which is an efficiency rating based on the number of strokes it took you to swim a distance – and just like golf, the lower the score the better. This can be an interesting way to find the stroke count that is most comfortable and efficient for you.
Swimming in the ocean feels markedly different to swimming in a pool. Try some training in ocean enclosures or ocean pools like the famous Icebergs at Bondi. These areas can have the familiarity of the pool with some of the turbulence of ocean swimming and can be a nice transition before being out in the open water. Once you have some experience, you could consider joining a squad to really accelerate your development and confidence.
It’s best to go out with a group when swimming in open water. Practice your sighting and don’t just rely on other swimmers. With no black line to follow, it’s easy to go off-course and waste valuable time. Pick a fixed landmark and look up regularly so you know you’re on track. It’s common to feel nervous or uncertain in deep water or with poor visibility. Stay calm, tread water and plan a route back to shore with a friend if you feel uncomfortable. Also be sure to practice your entries and exits into the water so you are race ready. Things can get hectic with a lot of people jostling for position as well as the sets of waves and changes in depth. Finally, remember every beach is different and conditions vary widely, so try swimming at different beaches. If you take the right precautions, train diligently and treat the ocean with respect, you’ll be confident to complete your first ocean swim in no time.