How to deal with tides when open water swimming

Open water swimming can pose a challenge even for the experienced pool swimmer. John Wood talks us through the best techniques and practices for training and racing with tides.

SANTA CRUZ, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 12: Athletes go into the ocean for the swim portion of the IRONMAN 70.3 Santa Cruz on September 12, 2021 in Santa Cruz, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images for IRONMAN)

Many of the skills required to tackle tides are focussed on observation and knowing the water around you. Sea swimming can be a completely different ball game to still-water and pool swimming, so ensure you have the right skills in your toolkit to tackle any issues that may arise in the water. 


Before you get in, take note of the direction the water is moving against fixed points – buoys, breakwaters, rocks etc. This will help you understand what you need to do to correct the direction of your swimming.

Sea swimming highlights the benefits of being able to breathe to both sides. This doesn’t necessarily mean bilateral breathing (every three to five strokes), but rather being able to alter which side you are breathing dependant on where waves are breaking and any splashing in the water.

It also means that if you’re planning on swimming parallel to a beach, you can always keep a reference on where you are and make sure you’re not swimming further and further out to sea.

Aim to sight as you feel yourself rise on the waves, as this is when you’ll enjoy the best view of where you’re going. You may have to lift your head higher than you might in a lake or other flatter water, so it’s a good idea to kick your legs harder for a moment so you don’t lose momentum as your legs sink.

Because the water is moving around so much compared to more contained swims in areas such as lakes, you really need to keep your arms moving. While we like to get maximum length on our strokes, we definitely don’t want to have dead spots or gliding; this becomes more important in the sea, as any points where we slow down are likely to increase the chance of being pushed in odd directions.


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