Open water swimming is always an adventure. Exploring and discovering new places, encountering marine fauna and flora, and trying to push ourselves past our limits is a fascinating and motivating experience for any swimmer. But there are times when the sea and the weather do not get along and it may seem as if the elements have turned against you. In these cases, it is important to stay calm and always choose the safest option.
Obviously, each situation will require a specific response, so below we will discuss some hypothetical scenarios and our recommendations for when you encounter them.
Unexpected weather change: In the event that your situation gets complicated from one moment to the next, (increased wind, increasingly large waves, lightning...), the best thing to do is stop, look around you, get out of the water at the nearest point, and walk the rest of the way. There will be time to continue your adventure when swimming does not pose such a risk.
A current surprises you: If you are suddenly caught in a current that is dragging you out to sea, first of all, remain calm and then, follow these steps:
• The first thing to do is slow down, try not to waste energy, and let yourself be carried away by the current without losing sight of the shoreline. Observe any changes in the sea to know when to start swimming again.
• When you notice the current weakening, start swimming parallel to the shoreline to get out of the main flow. This has to be the first goal.
• Once you have gotten out of it, you can swim towards the shore, taking advantage of the incoming waves pushing towards the beach.
• If in spite of everything you cannot reach the shore, you should stop, conserve your energy, and look for someone on the beach or in a boat that can assist you. If you have a buoy, (highly recommended) this will allow you to rest while help arrives.
PREPARATION IS ESSENTIAL
In order to face the challenges the sea throws your way, it is essential to be physically, technically and mentally prepared. Good training and mastering the technique specific to open water swimming will be extremely helpful when it comes to continuing to swim when conditions get complicated. But without the mental fortitude to be able to stay calm and think about what the next step is, being the strongest person in the ocean won't do you much good. As Orca athlete Pablo Dapena says in this other blog post, "mental strength is the invisible part of the athlete, which makes you win or lose a race.” In this case, it is the part that can give you that final push you need in order to face difficult conditions in open water.
All these elements, technique, physical fitness, and mental strength, can be worked on, trained, and developed as you get more experience as an open water swimmer. It is important to be consistent, to listen to those with the most experience, and above all, to never lose respect for the sea.
HAVE THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT
Whatever the sea conditions, having the right equipment will always be helpful in complicated situations. A good wetsuit and a safety buoy should always be on your check list.
• Wetsuit: In case you ever find yourself in a difficult situation that prevents you from leaving the water quickly, having the right wetsuit, which provides you with good buoyancy and good thermal insulation, can allow you stay in the water longer without exhausting yourself excessively and help you maintain a correct body temperature. Also, if the wetsuit has high-visibility panels, this will make it easier to locate you if you have to be evacuated.
• Buoy: This is a fundamental accessory that should always be with you on your open water adventures. Not only does it allow you to store your personal items in a watertight compartment (carrying your phone can always be helpful), but it also gives you great visibility and extra buoyancy in case you need it.
As long as you are prepared and have enough experience, adverse weather conditions or a rough sea can make your experience in open water an adventure.