By: Blonde Two
My absolutely favourite view when I am swimming in the sea is that goggle-clad one when half my vision is of the air and half under water. Until I threw my underwater camera at a rock (by accident not in a temper) I used to love taking pictures of exactly that view. Seeing where you are going when you are sea swimming is perhaps not as easy as you think it might be, particularly if you are swimming front crawl (my favourite stroke). If you can see the bottom when you put your head into the water, it is sometimes possible to follow or swim perpendicular to lines in the sand but, all too often, the water is a tad murky and, with the sea pushing you in the direction it thinks you should be going, it is easy to end up off course. I don’t have one of those watches that traces your swim (and I am not sure I want one) but if I did, I am sure I would show a very wiggly line. I am by no means an expert but here is what my experiences have taught me about how to see where you are going when you are swimming in the sea.
Choose your goggles carefully (and look after them)
A good pair of goggles can make all the difference to how much you can see when you are swimming. I can’t decide whether I prefer larger pairs (improved peripheral vision but not a good look) or smaller pairs (look great but leave eye lines after a long swim) but I do know that the non-fogging element of goggles works really well to start with but starts to lose its efficacy after a few weeks of daily sea swimming. Rinsing your goggles in fresh water and storing them in their box definitely helps with this. If you are going to be swimming towards the sun (and who wouldn’t want to) opt for a tinted pair if you want any hope of seeing anything above water.
Swim on a bearing
It would be a very clever sea swimmer who could swim in a straight line whilst lining up a compass but there is a useful tip to be learned from land navigation here. We teach our navigation trainees to set their compass bearing and then choose something on that bearing to walk towards, this prevents them from spending the whole time looking at their compasses but doesn’t work for night navigation. You can do the same thing with swimming, look for a clear landmark that will be in your view when you raise your head (to the side if you are swimming front crawl) and keep an eye out for it as you swim. This could be a headland, a building or, in my case, the Incredible Hulk (the fair is currently in town!)
Breathe on both sides
A surprising number of front crawl or freestyle swimmers can only breathe to either the left or right side. This was definitely the case for me and, when I only swam in pools, I didn’t see a need to change the habit. Before I swam the Dart 10K last year I had to teach myself to breathe on both sides because I knew that I would need to be able to see in both directions, on a strange river, with lots of other swimmers. This took some time and involved a lot of hip rolling practice and I still prefer a left breath to a right one but I make sure that I spend at least some time doing bilateral breathing (breathing on each side) during all of my daily swims.
Learn to do spotting
Spotting is lifting your head up every now and again to take in some information about where you are. Once you have practised you should aim to do this about every 8 strokes. If you swim front crawl, you should aim to spot as part of your stroke without slowing your progress. You don’t need to lift your head very far, just enough to spot your landmark and other swimmers.
Be aware of the currents
Of course, you should always be aware of currents and what the tide is doing when you are sea swimming and the best way to do this is to get local advice (ideally from a beach lifeguard). Even in the most gentle of waters, however, the sea has a pulling effect on your swim direction. Once you are aware of this, you can compensate and increase the strength of your stroke on one side.
Sea swimming is a wonderful hobby that I would recommend to anyone but it does come with possible dangers. Never swim under the influence of alcohol, seek local advice about safety and conditions, swim where there are other people and don’t jump directly into cold water unless you are fully acclimatised (even then getting in gently is much safer). For more information on wild swimming safety and other issues take a look at the Outdoor Swimming Society website.