Motivation Monday

Open Water Swimming

There is a level of fear and a vague unease about open water swimming, particularly triathlons where the swim portion is open water rather than pool. This motivation Monday is here to calm your fears, dispel the myths and get you thinking about taking on an open water swim on its own, or as part of a triathlon.

fancy a dip?

What’s all the fuss about?

What is all the fuss about?  Call it “open water swimming” and suddenly there’s a level of sport and skill attached to something you joyfully, thoughtlessly did as a child: sea swimming, jumping in lakes, paddling in a river.  Call it “open water swimming” and the multi-tasker gets wobbly and scared of sharks and water snakes.

open water frolics

You do have to pick your site and time prudently.  We’re not suggesting taking unnecessary risks.  But it is still just swimming!  

Triathlon open water swims have a particularly bad rap.  There are stories of being swum “over”, being pushed or pulled under, being head-butted (I made that up).  Whilst it can appear to be a scrum, triathletes are actually really nice and super supportive.  Barely anyone is competing against someone else, most are just trying for personal achievement.  Our advice for the nervous open water triathlete newbie is stay at the side and back of the scrum, chat to those around you about your fears and they will be really generous and kind with advice, don’t plan on a fast start – concentrate on your swimming technique and speed can come later (on the bike).  

Top tips

#1 wetsuit – if you’re nervous of open water swimming, a wetsuit REALLY helps.  It gives you buoyancy in the water so if it all goes pear-shaped with your nerves you can roll over and just float calmly on your back. (make sure you don’t buy a killer wetsuit like mine, though).  Obviously, it also keeps you warm and provides jellyfish protection.  It is somewhere to have a nervous pee to warm you up further (once in the water – not recommended on land……..)

#2 Backstroke – but you can’t do backstroke – as above, if a swimmer is in trouble they roll onto their back and put an arm in the air.  if everyone was doing backstroke the safety kayakers would be pretty busy!

#3 Breaststroke – it is ABSOLUTELY fine to do breaststroke in triathlon.  The major advantage in any open water swim is that you can see where you are going!!

#4 Front crawl – you have to adapt your technique in frontcrawl.  After every few breaths you need to put your head up & forwards and “sight” the buoy.  The kayakers will corral you like an errant sheep if you stray too far off course, but you don’t really want to swim farther than everyone else.

#5 Getting in – you need to acclimatise to the cold water and slow your heart rate for a few minutes before setting off.

#6 swim hat – you need a brightly coloured swim hat so you can be seen  by the safety kayakers/coastguards.  You will look very daft.  You will not mind.

#7 panic – occasionally, even seasoned open water swimmers get an overwhelming feeling of doom or panic.  It goes away but you can always roll onto your back for a moment before continuing – or have a chat with the safety kayakers, they are AMAZINGLY kind and helpful and will kayak alongside you if you’re struggling.


Once you’ve got over all of that, you can just enjoy it.  Being outdoors in the sea or a lake, swimming with only the sound of nature and the smell of fresh or salty water instead of chlorine and limitless pootling rather than 25 metre turnarounds.  What could be more uplifting?


So, if you fancy it, there are lots of places you can do it.  There is always the sea, or checkout NOWCA for freshwater sites and get your funky wetsuit on!

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A tiny hobbit dedicated to saving the world with a decent second breakfast. Also, available to make you feel good in triathlon when you overtake her.......

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