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September 24, 2021

SAFETY AND PERFORMANCE IN THE OCEAN – NAVIGATING TO FASTER AND SHORTER SWIMS

BRUCKNER CHASE - Founder and CEO of BC Ocean Positive, and Professional Ocean Lifeguard

Sighting is only the beginning. The key to faster, more efficient, and potentially shorter open water swims is learning to look beyond the buoys to better navigate the dynamic conditions that any open water venue can present.

Speed is one thing that can get an open water swimmer on the podium, but there is much more to consider. Perhaps the most overlooked skill that elite swimmers share with ocean athletes and lifeguards is a heightened level of situational awareness and a calm focus even in the most intense events. This awareness and ocean IQ allow them to assess a myriad of inputs from the ocean, waves, and weather to instantaneously plot the best course through the water.

Some considerations:

EYES OPEN 

Sighting forward, a skill that countless articles and coaches cover, is a critical tool to seeing what is in front of you in the open water. Incorporating a quick head lift only as high as conditions dictate while keeping your hips and forward speed up is critical to maintaining an open water course. At the same time, the best swimmers are seeing and assessing all that they sense throughout every moment in the water. 

• Sun in the Water – Even with your head down and eyes in the water the sunlight filtering into your googles can help you stay on course by holding the light at the same angle in your field of vision.
• Look Back – A quick drop of the chin to look behind just after grabbing a breath can show you the beach you just left, a landmark on shore, the last buoy or competitors falling back. Especially in the ocean a swimmer needs two points to set a straight line, and often that other point is going to be behind you. Look for it.
• On Your Right (or Left) – Every time you breath what do you see? Holding a shoreline at a constant distance or angle can be the easiest and best indicator if you are holding course.

FEEL MORE 

Traditionally when swimmers and coaches talked about developing a “Feel” for the water they were referring to the arm stroke and catch that moves you forward faster. In the open water that “Feel” needs to encompass everything going on around you.  

• Chop and Wind – While an eventual change in direction might mean not fighting the chop or struggling to breath, changing at the wrong time may mean drifting off course. If a steady wind from the side is hitting you with chop at the same time you are swimming straight towards the next marker, then keep that position relative to the conditions until you reach the next turn.
• Waves and Swell – Swimming straight out from the beach even in small surf means you will lose sight of the buoy ahead. Once you leave the beach the goal is to punch through the surf to the calmer water beyond. Stay perpendicular to the waves through the surf zone and then use your heightened awareness to adjust course to the buoy. The reverse is true navigating back to the beach. Once you make the commitment to swim in, then keep the prevailing waves at your feet. This positioning will keep you heading back to the beach and provide a little push from the power of the waves.
• Current and push – Experienced open water swimmers may feel a ‘push’ from a current that makes the effort harder or easier judging speed along the shore. Feeling the push of currents across your course will also allow adjustments left or right to NOT get swept past a critical buoy or landmark in the water.

HEAR EVERYTHING 

Listening for the sound of breaking waves as you head back to the beach can help you get a free ride to shore and avoid a roll in the surf. Hearing and recognizing the sound of a boat or a lifeguard’s whistle can ensure your best swims always end safely back on shore.

Immerse yourself in every sight, sound and feeling the open water provides, and enjoy your best swim…or podium!

ABOUT BRUCKNER CHASE

Founder and CEO of BC Ocean Positive, and Professional Ocean Lifeguard Bruckner Chase is an internationally recognized ocean advocate and professional waterman whose athletic accomplishments and adventures include some of the most challenging environments and harshest conditions on land and by sea. His athletic pursuits and innovative, evidence-based initiatives span from American Samoa, to Poland, to the Jersey Shore and provide opportunities to empower, as well as positively impact individual and community behavior towards our shared aquatic environments. He currently works with NOAA National Weather Service as their coastal safety, science and conservation advisor while also working on groundbreaking, inclusive surf lifesaving sports programs for para-athletes. His current project with NOAA, “Wave Safe with Bruckner Chase” is a multimedia campaign that teaches the philosophy, mindset and actions that can protect any person, on any shore.

He loves working in Australia and American Samoa and is always eager to get back to these places he considers “second homes”. Join Bruckner in protecting our oceans, and their inhabitants, and learn more at bcoceanpositive.org.