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Open Water Swim Safety Tips

Open Water Swim Safety Tips

With some triathlon races coming up, most of which have open water swims, it is important to go over some basic safety tips to ensure you have the best swim experience.

In a triathlon race, there are certified Lifeguards in kayaks moving about making sure everyone is fine. They are looking for signs of what’s called “Active Drowning” – lots of splashing in a vertical motion (body positioned head out and feet under and very little forward motion). So when athletes stop swimming for a second to tread water, they are keeping an eye out for you making sure you are OK and not drowning. This should hopefully give you some comfort during a race.

If at any point you are panicked in the water, raise your hand. This sign tells the Lifeguard to come over and assist you. You can hold onto the kayak for a short period of time and then proceed when you are ready. Check with the race because some may consider this immediate disqualification. It varies among different races.

Here are some good things to know:

1. Start the race in the back of the pack or to the side if you know you are not a strong open water swimmer. Doing so will keep you out of the way of numerous arms and legs moving about. Some athletes can be very aggressive and will swim over you if you are in their way. If an athlete is repeatedly kicking you or slapping your feet/body with their hands/arms, move over and get out of their way. The only time this is really an issue is in the beginning of a race when the pack is thick of athletes ready to go.

Keep in mind that some accidents of drowning have occurred with weaker swimmers getting in the middle or front of the pack at race start. They were submerged under water due to strong swimmers swimming over them and never got a chance to come back up. 2 years ago I competed at CapTex in the Elite division race. Elite men and women started the race together. While I am a strong swimmer, several men swam over me at race start and I was underwater for at least 15 sec. It felt like an eternity. It was scary, but I told myself to calm down because at some point I would be able to come back up for air. I remained calm and waited for the swimmers to pass. This experienced is shared because it can happen to anybody. The lesson to take from this is to remain calm.
2. Roll onto your back. If you get panicked for whatever reason, roll onto your back and flutter kick. This allows you to float, get air and relax. When you feel ready, roll back over and proceed swimming freestyle. Sometimes just stopping and treading water is a bad idea if there are lots of swimmers around. Essentially you are stopping while everyone around you is moving forward and they will swim over you. If you are on your back, you are moving with the flow and not getting in anyone’s way. Another great option is to swim breaststroke.

3. Practice in open water regularly. Some racers don’t practice in open water and on race day have no experience in it. Make a point to add it in your training! Open water is different than a pool – waves, currents, no black lines, murky water (hard to see through), no wall to take a quick break. If you live in the local area, join us on Sunday mornings at Boerne Lake. You need to practice it if your upcoming race has an open water swim.

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