How Open Water Swimming Works

How to Swim in Rough Conditions

It's windy and raining -- time to postpone the triathlon? Not likely. Sooner or later, you're going to be swimming in rough water. But don't fret: An ability to manage waves can ultimately be an advantage. If you're adept at battling waves, it could be a significant upper hand against less wave-resilient opponents. And, if you ever need to breaststroke away from a shipwreck, a healthy ability to navigate stormy seas could end up being a real lifesaver.

To start, you're going to need to know how to breathe. In the open water, however, an incorrect breathing style could quickly leave you with a stomach full of salt water. That's why open water swimmers need to coordinate breathing with the conditions. If waves are coming in from your right, breathe left. If blinding sun is coming in from your left, breathe right. This might be trickier than you think, especially if you've spent years in the pool breathing to only one side. Before you tackle rough water, go to a pool and swim a few laps while breathing only on the side that you find least comfortable [source: Murphy]. In rough weather, waves, wind and spray also mean that you'll have less of a window in which to pull in air -- so be sure to make every breath count. Right before surfacing, exhale all of the air in your lungs. That way, when you come up for air, you'll be able to breathe in more quickly.

Sometimes, instead of battling the waves, it pays to swim under them. If you get hit by a particularly hard wave, you may be forced to dog paddle to recover, wasting valuable energy in the process. By ducking under those waves like a dolphin, you'll avoid getting jostled often -- and your rough water swims will be much less frustrating [source: Keppeler]. If a wave is relatively small, save energy by simply hopping over it. Or, if it's small enough that you can just crash through it, simply turn sideways and hit the wave with your hip or shoulder. Do it properly, and the wave will simply pass around you.

Warming up before a swim is a good idea in all weather conditions, but it's especially important in rough seas. Get in, splash around, try a test sighting -- anything that will give you a good idea of water temperature, visibility and current. That way, long before the starting gun goes off, you'll be able to adjust your goggles, suit and swim plan as necessary.

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