Sea swimming
COACH,  EXTRA,  June 2023,  Top Tips,  Training and Technique

How to swim in the sea

Jonathan’s guide to how to adapt your stroke for swimming in waves and chop in the sea

If you are used to swimming in fresh water, swimming in the sea and its ever-changing environment can present challenges – and thrills!

Firstly, saltwater makes you more buoyant, so swimming is suddenly easier if you are used to freshwater. Take a moment to notice how that buoyancy feels and affects your stroke.

Lube up!

As well as being more buoyant, salt water is also saltier! This can cause problems in two ways, firstly with chafing, even when wearing previously comfortable swimming costumes or wetsuits – so lube up using an ocean friendly lube.

Secondly, ingesting salt water can make you feel nauseous so practise adjusting your breathing pattern so you can breathe to one side to avoid being hit in the face by waves and chop.

Conserve your energy

If you must swim out through big waves, dive through them rather than swim over them. You will use much less energy and avoid being thrown around.

When swimming back to shore, use the power of the sea to your advantage by surfing the waves in (read our guide to learn how to body surf).

Frequent sighting

Waves and swell can make it more difficult to see where you are going and get your bearings. Don’t panic but sight more often and practise sighting when you are at the top of the wave. Consider using water polo stroke (head-up freestyle) to get a better look at where you are.

When you are swimming in or across a current, sight more often to make sure you aren’t being pushed off course. Swimming in challenging conditions can be tough but try not to panic.

Focus on your breath

Concentrating on your breathing will relax you, your stroke and reduce your stress levels. Think about making yourself as streamlined as possible.

Don’t fight the sea – it will always win! Instead, think about how you can adapt your stroke to the conditions. Practise when training so you feel confident when faced with challenging conditions in the open water.

Read our tips for how to plan a sea swim.

To see all the online content from the June 2023 issue of Outdoor Swimmer, visit the 'Sea' page.
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Jonathan is a year-round skins swimmer with a particular love of very cold water. He has competed in ice swimming competitions around the world. He is a qualified open water coach with a particular love of introducing new swimmers to the open water.