100 Things Every Open Water Swimmer Should Know

100 Things Every Open Water Swimmer Should Know

Eric Glass created a list of 100 Things Every New Triathlete Should Know. Glass’ list is comprehensive and clever, educational and entertaining.

The World Open Water Swimming Association also has its own list of 100 Things Every Open Water Swimmer Should Know. Its coaches share this information and tidbits with newbies and veterans at its clinics and camps:

General Principles

1. Expect the unexpected.
2. Predictable unpredictability occurs in the open water. Have a race/swim plan and then be flexible when necessary.
3. Safety first; you can always swim another day.
4. It is farther than it looks.
5. Acclimatization takes time, patience and effort.
6. Acclimatization is better and healthier than purposefully putting on excess bioprene.
7. The Many Wrongs Principle in the open water is generally right.
8. Pack navigational accuracy (navigational IQ) generally increases with group size.
9. Directional uncertainty is reduced with increased familiarity of the open water course.
10. The Certainty of Uncertainty Principle can work to your advantage or disadvantage.


11. Sprint to win; pace to place.
12. Swim fast at first [in a competitive race].
13. Use your legs either for propulsion or stability.
14. In a large pack, pace slows around turn buoys.
15. Draft at the feet of the lead swimmer when the pace is slow; draft off their knees/hips when their pace is fast.
16. Know the shape of the pack: tripod, arrow, rotating arrow, beeline, rotating beeline, peloton or hybrid.
17. Learn to swim without swallowing water, no matter how turbulent the water is.
18. [Elite] women push the pace from the start; [elite] men negative split the race.
19. Learn to body surf and do it when you can.
20. Railroad whenever possible.


21. Use at least 2 pairs of goggles in your practices, just in case you might need the second pair in a race/swim.
22. Put Vaseline on your ankles and outer shoulders to prevent competitors from ziplining you.
23. Use sunscreen, preferably the biodegradable type.
24. Use a pace clock during pool workouts.
25. Do not overuse or become overly reliant on hand paddles or pull buoys in practice.
26. Swim snorkels can help you focus on your hand path and improve your stroke technique.
27. Swim near the mid-ship of your escort boat, breathing towards your pilot and crew.
28. Use fins – kicking at a high pace – to help improve ankle flexibility and leg strength.
29. Use ear plugs if the water is cool/cold for you.
30. Lanolin stays on much longer than Vaseline.


31. You can practice dolphining in a shallow pool and every time in open water practices.
32. Frequently practice “what-if” scenarios.
33. Know your limits when it comes to hypothermia. Know how and what extreme/cold water temperatures/conditions affect you.
34. Know your limits when it comes to hyperthermia. Know how and what extreme/warm water temperatures/conditions affect you.
35. Select escort crew members for their expertise and experience, not for their fun and friendships.
36. Become familiar with your hydration in practice.
37. Become familiar with foods that are good for you; not for their percentage of fat, carbohydrates and proteins.
38. Stress your body to improve your stamina, speed and strength.
39. Stay positive and motivated: swimming should be enjoyable.
40. Be consistent in your training.

Marine Life

41. Know how best to treat jellyfish stings.
42. Do not rub tentacles off your skin.
43. If you see a shark, go “big” (i.e., spread out how arms and legs and go vertical).
44. If you see a shark, try to keep your heart rate low.
45. If you see a shark, keep it in your visual range.
46. Do not grab the fins of a dolphin or porpoise.
47. Do not reach into a coral reef or anything with a shell.
48. You are the visitor in any marine environment; respect the local marine life.
49. Things hide and live with seaweed and kelp beds.
50. Know what venomous, stinging, biting creatures are indigenous to the place where you swim.


51. Share your knowledge of open water swimming with triathletes.
52. Share your knowledge of local open bodies of water with others, from water temperatures to safe swim courses.
53. Be on time for practices; be punctual for Toes In The Sand or Toes In The Water.
54. Be positive, especially when a swim is a DNF, a DNS, a DSQ or an OTL.
55. Offer to volunteer at races, clinics, camps, seminars and solo swims.
56. Offer to pack goodie bags or pick up post-race food or help with buoys for a race director.
57. Donate as you can for charity swims.
58. Thank the volunteers, race director, staff and crew. Express your appreciation in person and in words.
59. If you see something wrong at a race, tell the race director, safety personnel and volunteers. Put it in writing afterwards.
60. If possible, clip your finger and toe nails before a race.


61. Strengthen your core.
62. Improve your flexibility, especially your shoulders and ankles.
63. Cross-train, doing something you enjoy.
64. Do dryland training if you cannot find a pool or open body of water.
65. Find/use a restroom before you show up at the race. Restrooms are always crowded before the race starts.

Nutrition and Hydration

66. Hydrate well; your urine should be clear before a race/swim.
67. Know what foods agree with your stomach, especially when the open body is turbulent and wavy.
68. Eat a normal breakfast on race/swim day. Do not skip this important meal.
69. Do not litter the open water or the shoreline with your unused or used plastics, cups or containers.
70. Know the Four Steps of Feeding: (a) Seek and Spot, (b) Reach and Roll, (c) Gulp and Go and (d) Toss and Turn.


71. Practice ins-and-outs to improve onshore finishes and your T1 transitions.
72. Incorporate pull-outs and deck-ups in your pool training.
73. If you are not fast, do not start with the alpha dogs in the front row at races.
74. Accept the fact that physicality, whether intentional or unintentional, is part of the competitive open water swimming.
75. Accept the fact that drafting, whether intentional or unintentional, is part of the competitive open water swimming.
76. Use rubber gloves or a plastic baggie to apply lanolin, sunscreen or Vaseline; keep your hands free from ointments of all kinds.
77. Learn how to urinate while swimming; there is no need to stop.
78. Know what side your competitors prefer to breathe on.
79. Pollution and boat exhaust are occasionally part of the equation. Learn to deal with them.
80. Know the race course well and the number and placement of the turn buoys.


81. Know where and why you chafe.
82. Shave before a race if your beard or stubble cause chafing.
83. Lakes and fresh water feels colder than ocean and salt water at the same temperature.
84. Modify your stroke-per-minute pace and kicking at altitude.
85. Learn how to put on and take off your wetsuit quickly.
86. Remove watches, rings, necklaces and other jewelry in open water swimming competitions. With all the bumping, impeding, scratching, pulling on legs or arms, cutting off, veering into, tapping or touching, slapping, clipping, conking, swiping, whacking, pulling off goggles or swim caps, obstructing, ziplining, interfering, pummeling, nudging, punching, kicking, elbowing, pushing, jostling, shoving, crowding, banging against, smacking, smashing into or pressing against other swimmers, others can get cut or hurt.
87. Assume windsurfers or boaters cannot see you.
88. Even if you have the legal right of way in the open water, do not cross the path of surfers, windsurfers or boaters.
89. Do not swim behind a boat.
90. Make a list of the things you need before a race or swim.
91. Pack your bag and prepare all your equipment/hydration/feedings the day/night before your race/swim.
92. Get a good night’s sleep, especially 2 and 3 days ahead of your race/swim. Insomnia and the jitters are normal the night before.
93. Bring an old t-shirt to wear immediately after your swim if you will be cold and you will wear lots of lanolin. The shirt will be junked with all the leftover lanolin on it. 94. Bring an extra towel and most certainly, extra goggles and swim caps.
95. Make your goggles clear by cleaning out with a few drops of baby/mild shampoo.
96. Try or use nothing new on race/swim day.
97. Do not apply sunscreen on your race numbers after they have been written on your skin. They will smudge.
98. Bring extra toilet paper for use at the race venue, especially when using portable potties.
99. Use coconut oil or other mineral oils to quickly and efficiently remove black ink/race numbers from your skin. These oils are more effective than wet wipes.
100. Enjoy the sport for your entire life.

On the opposite side of the equation, here are 50 Things An Open Water Swimmer Should Not Do.

Copyright © 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association
Steven Munatones