How to swim in choppy water

Andy Bullock explains how to cope with sea swims when the water gets rough

Credit: Ross Grieve/ Dirty Green Trainers

Open-water swimming often presents a challenge, even for the most experienced of athletes, and very few thrive in these conditions. A choppy sea poses both physical challenges, such as technique adjustment and sighting, and mental challenges, such as building your self-belief.

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When training, practise your sighting technique: look to be able to lift your eyes above the water and time this when one of your arms is out in front of you, allowing you to gently push down on the water. At the same time, increase your kick a little to help maintain your hips high in the water.

When the sea is a little choppier you may need to lift your head a little higher out of the water to sight and, in doing so, your hips are likely to drop further, so only lift your head as much as you need to.

Finally, it’s important to think about sighting at the top of a wave. This will give you the best opportunity to see as far as you can. Your basic sighting skills can be practised in both a pool and a lake ready for the big day.

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Water entry and exit in the sea are also important; think about diving through big waves and surfing in on the bigger waves.

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From a mental point of view, the most common area to work on is self-confidence and this can be built in many ways. As well as knowing that other people can swim in these conditions (‘If they can do it, so can I’), the best way to build your confidence is to experience the conditions yourself before the event. Knowledge that you have done it before is very useful in knowing you can do it again.

So, for both physical and mental training, a well-planned recce of the race venue, or a venue with conditions close to those you will face, is a very useful tool in your training armoury – even if you can’t train regularly in the sea.

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