What I learned swimming in the ocean

This past week, Excel accompanied The College of St. Roses’ swim team on their training trip down to sunny Puerto Rico. In between double practices each day, the coaches had the chance to go out to the ocean and train some open water swimming in the ocean.

Past a couple of excursions each summer to train with the US lifeguard national team in Long Beach, I don’t get the opportunity to swim in the ocean as much as I would like, so having a couple of days in a row to train was definitely an educational experience. Here are a couple of things I learned while training in the waves-

1) Stay LONG in the water-the most obvious difference between swimming in the ocean compared to a lake are the waves. Since most of the time the waves are not perfectly perpendicular to the shore, more times than not we were swimming slightly against or with the waves. For both instances, not fighting the water with short, choppy strokes and instead staying long allowed us to not only ride through the choppy parts of the water a lot faster, but also with a lot less energy.

2) Kicking at the right time makes all the difference-as mentioned in the previous point, the waves made a very interesting environment, particularly the larger ones that would come at an angle, changing the direction we were swimming. The easiest way to combat this was to drive the legs AS SOON as we would feel the wave coming under us, raising us up. By driving our legs, we were not only able to surge forward and get through the wave quicker, but also stop the wave from changing our direction.

3) Use your surroundings to site-the higher the waves, the harder it was to site the buoys we were swimming to….using our surroundings to site was KEY. The shoreline, buildings, trees, and other swimmers all became extremely important, especially in the choppy areas where the buoy could not be spotted without completely stopping (which is never ideal). However, knowing how our surroundings related to the buoy allowed us to stay in a fairly straight path, regardless of the chop.

4) Breathing to both sides is a must-some areas of the ocean were fairly calm, while others (like mentioned above) were fairly choppy. Being able to breath to both sides made it a lot easier to get a full breath of air in the more turbulent areas of the ocean.

5) Gum after the swim helps get rid of all the salt-this was possibly one of the most stark differences between the water I am used to swimming in outside (ocean and lake) in New York compared to Puerto Rico…the SALT. I have never experienced such salty water in my life, and with that came a not so welcome taste while swimming. Having a piece of gum ready for after the swim became a necessity for our swims. It helped get the overpowering salty taste out of our mouths, and help calm the stomach a bit from the turbulent water.