The Ocean 101 Beginners’ Guide


Wear a brightly colored swim cap. White can be mistaken for wave tops so choose something that can easily be seen from shore. Blue and black are tough to see as well. A wetsuit is necessary for warmth and buoyancy.

Warm up! Elevate your heart rate before you swim and get familiar with the water temperature first. Get in the water if you can or run on the beach for ten minutes.

Waves come in long repeating sets. Spend 10 minutes before you swim or race observing the wave patterns.

If this is your first time racing open water, it’s an automatic Personal Record! Hang back five seconds and let the speedsters rush the water.

Observe the swimmers ahead of you before you enter the water to identify the direction of the current.

Shuffle your feet to move sea life aside and find dropouts or holes in the floor. Don’t stomp!

Turn sideways to present less surface area to low waves. Begin diving when waves are above the waist.

“Dive for five!” Arms out in front, aim for the bottom of the wave, and stay under for five full seconds. Touch the sand. Your ankles will detect the wave passing over.

Immediately look ahead for another wave in case you need to dive again.

People clump up around the buoys. Swim wide to avoid contact. If you get tired, roll on your back outside the traffic lane and float for 30-60 seconds.

Choose a tall structure or landmark in the distance to sight upon and look every few breaths to stay on target. The feet in front of you may not know where they’re going!

Contact with others is inevitable. Remain relaxed and stay focused on your breathing and technique.

At your final turn towards shore do an internal assessment for your energy level. Ease back as needed before crossing the break!

Choose a target on shore and head in. As you approach the break do a slow body roll to look behind you for waves. Aim for shore, pinpoint accuracy isn’t critical for most races and you can run the gap to transition. Commit fully to swimming through the break and do not stop until you’re in waist deep water or shallow enough to run.

3 Responses to The Ocean 101 Beginners’ Guide

  1. Awesome guide! Thank you for putting this together.

    Still not exactly sure why you want to raise your heart rate before going in when that is the exact opposite you want when in the ocean. You want to calm your heart rate down so your breathing is relaxed on the swim, right? I know that we run to warm up before going in the water. But not understanding the rationale behind getting the heart rate up before going in.

    • Good question. We don’t advocate running a full sprint or anything close to it. Instead, don’t pull your wetsuit up all the way, just halfway, and do a light and easy jog 5 minutes up the beach and 5 minutes back. This will give you time to visually assess the wave conditions and cycles, as well as slightly elevate your heart rate. You want to get the neuromuscular system ready to do work, rather than hitting the water completely cold. We’ve found that cold starts cause people to pull their arms up to their chest and fold inward, which means they surface faster on the dives. Then, because they’ve jump-started their heart rate it spikes and they breathe too quickly and expend too much energy early. Being warmed up just means you’ve let your body know it has to perform soon, you’ve increased oxygen to your tissues, and your brain is stimulated and alert. It sets the stage for being prepared, present, and yes, even relaxed.

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