Open water swimming is a popular swimming sport that involves swimming in the sea, lakes, rivers and other natural waters. It is a different form of swimming compared to pool swimming as you have to take into account factors such as wind, waves and currents.
Open water swimming is a challenging sport that requires good physical fitness, endurance and technical skills. It is important to be familiar with the local weather and water conditions. In general, it is not recommended to swim alone but with others, which also makes for a more enjoyable experience and workout!
Equipment for openwater swimming
- Swimming goggles
- Swimming cap
- Safety buoy
A wetsuit keeps you warm and gives you better buoyancy, making swimming safer. There are many different types of suits depending on your choice of swimming style, your level and your budget. Many retailers offer the opportunity to test swim the suit before making a decision. If the water is very cold, a hood or headband, socks and neoprene gloves can be comfortable. There are also thin sweaters and shorts made of neoprene that can be worn under the wetsuit as reinforcement. Merino wool also acts as an extra, warming layer. In addition to the wetsuit, the colorful swim cap and the safety buoy, you will need a pair of goggles. If the sun is strong, it can be nice to have tinted lenses. When cold water flows into your ears, it affects your sense of balance and can make you feel dizzy or seasick. A pair of earplugs can usually prevent this. Vaseline (or bodyglide) on the neck reduces the risk of chafing from your wetsuit.
Training for open water swimming requires a combination of endurance training, technique training and adaptation to the specific conditions of the open water. Swimmers who are familiar with techniques for dealing with waves and currents, as well as techniques for maintaining direction and course are often faster than others and use less energy during the race.
Open water swimming is a unique and challenging form of swimming that attracts many people looking for a new challenge and a different way to experience nature. Despite the challenges and risks involved, it is a great sport that rewards its practitioners with a sense of freedom and discovery.
Difference between pool and open water
If you are abroad, you may be lucky enough to swim in calm, warm water with good visibility, almost like a pool, but here at home the conditions are different. The temperature in our Swedish waters is usually relatively modest and visibility is limited. When you have no black line on the bottom to follow, you need to add navigation to your swimming. You may also have to take into account waves, currents and blinding sunlight. It's not uncommon for something as trivial as swimming over seaweed, through water lilies or watching small schools of fish pass by to be terrifying the first few times. If you swim a race, you can often expect to be crowded with others.
Training for a race
Sometimes the start of a triathlon, swimrun or open water race can feel like being in a tumble dryer. There are arms and legs everywhere, the water is splashing and it can feel extra hard to breathe. Even if you are far back or on the edge of the starting field, where it is usually much less hectic, it can be nice to have practiced similar situations in advance so that you can stay calm. Drafting means staying close enough to another swimmer to save energy. The swimmer in front creates a negative pressure in the water, giving the one behind less water resistance. There are two ways to draft, one is to lie directly behind the feet of another swimmer, the other is to lie diagonally behind, with your head level with the hip of the person in front. To get where you want to be when swimming outdoors, you need to navigate. You do this by looking ahead at regular intervals, with your eyes just above the surface of the water.
Avoid breathing while navigating. If you lift your head too high, the water situation will deteriorate and you may get a cold drink. Aim for something high in the direction you are going, such as tree tops or rooftops. If the water is calm and you have buoys to follow, you can aim for them, but if the water is choppy, the buoys can disappear out of sight in the troughs. It's good to have a reference point higher up. Some races also require you to round one or more buoys, and there are different techniques for doing this effectively. Single arm swimming, polo swimming or taking a backstroke are some of them.
Important to consider
Safety first! Never swim alone. Have someone watching you from the water or from the shore. If you are swimming in the sea or in a large lake with boat traffic, it is a good idea to have your supervisor stay beside you in an accompanying kayak. Otherwise, swim so close to shore that you can get to shore quickly if something happens. Wear a colorful swim cap and keep a safety buoy with you when you swim. A safety buoy is a brightly colored, waterproof, inflatable buoy that you attach with a strap around your waist.
After the swim
Even if it's a decent temperature in the water, it can be nice to have warm clothes and maybe a hat at hand when you come up, especially at the beginning and end of the season when the air is cold. A thermos with something hot to drink is also good to have if you get chilled in the water.