OPEN WATER SWIMMING (OWS) TIPS

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Take the Plunge!

Getting started with mid-distance open water swimming

  • Start small - I started out swimming 1/2 mile total out and back in Lake Washington, Seattle. Pick a point to swim to. If you have a GPS you can actually gauge distance accurately, but if you're swimming along the coast, look on Google Maps to estimate distance with landmarks. 

  • Gradually increase distance - I went from 1/2 mile to 1 mile to 2.5 miles to eventually my longest swim of 10K (current assisted). 

  • Find a community for support - I swim with the Notorious Alki Swimmers and Western Washington Open Water Swimmers Facebook group. This community has been immensely supportive and has taught me everything I know about open water swimming. They're consistent and keep me motivated. Plus, they're so fun to be around! The open water swimming community is small and niche, it seems like everyone knows each other! Find your local swimming group - swimmers are friendly people all around the world! 

  • Swim in a pool to train - I really dislike pool swimming now after swimming in lakes and salt water regularly, but it's necessary to train for long distances. I swim with a Masters team 1-2x a week at my local YMCA. Every time I attempt a long open water swim without going to Masters consistently, I feel it. Do yourself a service and train in a pool! With pool swimming, you'll do more interval training to help increase your speed and endurance, all which helps with OWS. 

  • Get Warm Quick - If you're swimming in really cold water for a long period of time, you're at risk of hypothermia. The good thing is that you can adjust your body to the cold! It's amazing but it works - especially if you swim consistently. Start small, increase distance and time without a wetsuit. Bring socks, a swim parka, a hat, and warm clothes to change into ASAP when done swimming, especially if you're trying in skins. I recently swam 1 hour in the sound without a wetsuit and felt way better when I had a hat after. Start small - 5 minutes to 10 minutes to 15 and so on. 

  • Be Safe - Swim in groups or with another person, consult others who know the area, swim with a buoy and if you feel deeply unsafe, trust your gut. 

  • Test the Water - I always like to swim casually in new water the day before a long swim in the same water. I recommend this for the mental preparation more than anything!

Get the Gear! 

SAFETY BUOY

My favorite adult floaty is the Wild Paces buoy on Amazon for $25. It's durable, doubles as a dry sack and keeps me afloat if I want a rest. I always mentally feel safer with it. I put my keys and phone in a small dry sack and put that inside the bag to be extra safe. 

WETSUIT

I love my Blue Seventy suits. I bought my first one lightly used for half the price at the BlueSeventy warehouse in Shoreline, WA. I also recently bought the BlueSeventy Thermal suit which goes down to 47 degrees comfortably. I like to wear this one in the winter. I also use surf booties (5 mm) and gloves (1.5 - 3 mm) for cold water. I also have a sleeveless Xterra suit (on sale at the time for $90!).

 

When the water is warmer (mid 50s), I'll skip the suit. For long distance swims in colder water, I'll still use the suit. 

Pro online shopper tip: search for a promo code before buying! 

GOGGLES

These AquaSphere goggles saved me from the chop of the SF bay during my 10K swim (so choppy I got rid of the swim buoy which kept hitting me in the face in the waves). I have tried multiple pairs and these are my favorite.

More Gear! All the Gear!

  • A big cheap 5 gallon bucket from the hardware store - Helps to keep all of your wet stuff in one place post-swimming. After swimming, I throw everything in the bucket along with wetsuit soap and then wash/dry everything on a dry rack at home. Join the bucket club!

  • Two swim caps - For cold water, it helps to wear two. I love silicone caps, they're easier to put on. Some people like to wear a thermal cap (like this one from Blue Seventy) under a regular swim cap, too. I personally dislike them - they feel super constricting for me around my neck as I'm swimming.

  • Silicone Ear Plugs - You'll be more comfortable with something like these. I reuse the same pair a few times and they seem to work fine. It's not only for comfort - I've heard cold water swimming without earplugs can potentially damage your hearing over time. 

  • Anti-Chafe - Slather some classic bag balm behind your neck and around your underarm area to help prevent chafing. Salt water increases chafing. I also love TriGlide - recently my Bag Balm exploded everywhere in the car on a long, hot swim vacation and ruined my swim parka. 

  • Booties and Gloves - DryLock is a great brand, but really any flexible surf booties and gloves will work. I use 3 mm DryLock gloves and 5 mm Rip Curl surf booties in the Puget Sound.

  • Swim Parka - Always helpful for the ever-awkward deck change. A butt may be viewed publicly with OWS, get used to it. Swim parkas are great for getting warm quickly after swimming in cold water. I recommend www.surfoutlet.com for finding one of these, for a swimsuit, or anything else you may need. The mecca of swim parkas is the pricey Dry Robe! I'm yet to splurge on it. 

  • Google Defogger Spray, Silicone Lubricant Spray and Wetsuit Shampoo from GearAid (a local company out of Bellingham, WA!) or Slosh. These items will make your expensive gear last. Spray the silicone lubricant spray on your wetsuit, booties and gloves and wash everything in your bucket with the shampoo after fun in the water!

  • Vinegar - If you get stung by a jellyfish (like the Lions Mane!), splash vinegar on the sting and then scrape the cells off with a credit card. I carry a bottle of vinegar in my buoy in case I get stung. 

  • Anti-Jellyfish Sting Sunscreen (Safe Seas) - This sunscreen doubles as a slippery protector against jellyfish and also a sunscreen. I spray this on when I'm swimming skins or on my arms when I'm wearing my sleeveless wetsuit. 

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Long-Swim Prep

Logistical tips and What to Bring

  • Tide Planning - I love the Real Tide app. I still don't know everything about the tides, but my swim friends and I figure it out. If the tide is not perfect, just do your best! 

  • Long distance swims require some extra up-front planning - You'll need to pack your buoy with everything you need for the swim, warm clothes for the ending point, and plan for rides. You can alternatively tie a buoy somewhere in the mid-point of your swim with food and water, but I prefer to carry it with me. Here are some packing tips: 

  • Buoy Pack List

    • Nutrients, something easily digestible (I love Cliff Bar Bloks). 

    • Water in a light-weight water bottle (biking water bottles are perfect!) 

    • Light-weight flip flops to walk around in when you're done swimming. Booties are fine too, I've walked a mile in them but they don't have as much protection from crap on the ground! 

    • Cell phone in a waterproof case, inside a dry sack 

    • ID 

    • Cash 

    • Tri-glide for chafing 

    • Booties, gloves, ear plugs, two swim caps, goggles (bring an extra pair in case they break!) 

  • End Point Pack List You need to pack a bucket or bag for the end of your swim. Give it to someone who will meet you at the end point, risk leaving it unattended at the end point with a note that you'll be back, or drive a car to the end point and have someone drop you off at the starting point (or Uber). Here's what I recommend:

    • Swim parka​​

    • Towel

    • Extra change of clothes that you can quickly put on 

You'll likely need to coordinate rides, end point pick ups, etc. with someone and give them an estimated time when you expect to be done with the swim. 

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NOTE: I am not an expert and this site is meant to give you tips on OWS and some ideas for adventures. If you're really serious about OWS, a swim coach is probably helpful. Your safety is ultimately in your own hands. Be smart out there and have fun!