Open water swimming is currently thriving. Partly because of it being one of the three disciplines of the triathlon, and partly because of how the Great Swims really kick-started the popularity of the sport - with some events now attracting as many as 10,000 swimmers.
One of the most important things to remember about open water swimming is that it offers different challenges than swimming in a pool. For anyone new to open water swimming there are a number of tips to follow that will help to make their first open water race a stress free experience.
A Suitable Wetsuit
Trying on an open water wetsuit is preferable before an event, but, if you can't, at least make sure that any wetsuit you plan to use is a good fit. Also look out for try-on days at some shops or an online swim shop that offers free size exchanges, which will allow you to select the right wetsuit for size and fit.
Ensure that there are no leaks in your swimming goggles, and that you have a spare pair available - in the event of the strap breaking on the ones you're wearing.
Open Water Practice
This is very important, especially for swimmers new to this type of swimming. Learning about mass starts, stroke adaptation, swimming around buoys, and sighting can all be helpful in improving your performance in an open water swim event. Ideally, you should attend either a one-to-one or group session with a knowledgeable open water swim coach.
The Importance of Cold Water Conditioning
By practising swimming in cold water you'll be better prepared for the conditions of an open water race. Getting acclimatised to cold water is vital for open water swimmers, and will help to prevent hyperventilation and panic during the race.
Most times swimmers will have the opportunity of warming up with a swim in the water before a race. This opportunity should be taken, as it's a way of lessening the shock for swimmers when they hit the water when the race starts. Alternatively, splashing your face with cold water, or submerging it, will also help to prepare you for the change in temperature.
Retaining Heat with Two Caps
Most of the heat that's lost for swimmers will be through the head, so two caps instead of just one can help to reduce heat loss. A durable neoprene swim hat worn underneath your swim cap will be ideal.
You'll need to wear a bright cap so that you are easily visible to other water users. Fluorescent and bright colours should be chosen, such as fluorescent orange, green, and yellow, or bright pink. Black, brown, grey, dark green, blue and even white aren't so visible.
Short Finger Nails
Long finger nails may tear neoprene, so cut your nails if necessary before a race. To avoid the risk of ripping your wetsuit try and use the palms of your hands to put it on. If you do choose to keep your long nails then using gloves to put your wetsuit on is a good option to consider.
Swimming with a Friend
Having a friend who is experienced at open water swimming can be beneficial to a newcomer. They can be helpful in offering tips, but, as a training partner, they can also be good for motivation. In the event of your having any problems during a race, then they will also be able to help you through them.
Shaving is something that's not recommended before an open water swim, because the combination of salt water and razor burn can prove to be an unpleasant experience for a swimmer.