How To: Open Water Swim - See Her Swim

How To: Open Water Swim

Open Water Swim: A Beginner’s Guide

Pool swim versus open water swim – what are the differences? For starters, pools have calm, clear water. They are consistent and always safe. Open water provides more of an adventure with its changing variables, like weather, currents, and boats. You can’t see through the water when you’re swimming in nature. There are no black lane lines at the bottom to watch and no friendly arms and legs in the lane next to you. Open water, whether it’s a lake, bay or river, can fire up the imagination and raise fears of gross underwater plants, curious seals or nibbly fish.  

Don’t fret, we’re here to help. Learning how to open water swim is fun and freeing! Here are some open water swim tips and tricks to make your transition from the pool into nature a little bit easier. 

Packing List

  • A wetsuit, if you have one. It will keep you warm and protect you from aggressive plants. For wetsuit novices, vaseline or body glide will help prevent chafing around your neck or under your arms. 
  • Two swim caps: one brightly-colored cap for visibility and another underneath it for added warmth. Earplugs will keep you even warmer. 
  • A tow float. This swim buoy helps you stay visible, has a waterproof pocket for your keys and phone, and serves as a float if you need a break.
  • A warm drink for after the swim 
  • Warm clothes/footwear to change into when you’re done

Safety First

For an open water swim, safety is key. Make sure you know as much as you can about the body of water you are about to swim in. If there’s a lifeguard on duty or other swimmers around, ask them about the area. Things to think about are tides and currents, boat traffic, rock formations, and water temperature. 

Set a Course 

Before you get started, take a look around and decide where you’re going to swim. Make a mental note of high points, like tree tops, mountain peaks, or hillside houses. For an out-and-back swim, find a marker for your turn-around point. Once you’re in the water, it’s hard to see things that are at your level, even a bright buoy. Having higher points of reference will help you navigate. 

Make the Plunge

Keep in mind, ankles are highly sensitive to cold water. When you first step into the water, just keep going. Your ankles will protest. Don’t listen! Keep going. Getting your stomach wet is the next hurdle. Just keep wading in until you get your face wet. 

Get Your Goggles Right

In a pool, tight-fitting goggles are key for when you dive in. For open water swimming, you’ll most likely be wearing your goggles for longer so make sure they aren’t super tight, or after a while they’ll hurt your face. If your goggles aren’t comfortable, you can always tread water and adjust them. Just make sure you get a good suction when you put them back on. 

Choose the Best Stroke

When you’re swimming in nature, you’re stuck with the conditions of the day. If the water is smooth and glassy, a standard freestyle stroke works great. If the water is choppy, you’ll need to stabilize yourself. Keep your arms more straight, swinging them wide around. Slice your hand through the wave, not over it. 

Keep in mind: Mornings are typically calm. Often the wind picks up toward the end of a day, causing chop and making a swim more challenging. 

How to Sight

To sight is to check your location while you are swimming. It’s easiest to do while you are taking a breath. While one arm pulls back, lift your chin up to take a quick look forward. Need more time to look? Swim freestyle or breaststroke with your head up for a few strokes. This method uses more energy, but feeling confident in your direction is important. Do whichever works best for you.  

Give Yourself a Break

If you start to get nervous, anxious or uncomfortable in the water, remember that you can always turn over on your back. Float quietly, kick gently or swim backstroke to calm down, regain focus, or simply rest. This is a great time to admire the view and give yourself props for trying something new!

Scroll to Top