Victory TRI - Open Water Swim

We spent the afternoon with Pulse Endurance and the crew from Zoot (wetsuits) for a short open water swim.

Open water swimming is an important aspect to our sport. It sometimes feels like a different sport when you’re out there. Even in the bay where the water is calm and warm it feels different.

In a pool where everything is controlled (temperature, clarity and distances) it’s easy to forget how to deal with the uncertainties of the open water. In open water you have the opposite of warm temps, clear conditions and no lane lines to keep you headed in the right direction. Add on the fact that you need to learn how to swim (fast) with a wetsuit, spot buoys or landmarks and somehow stay in the right direction and it gets complicated real quick.

Here’s my advice for new triathlon swimmers going out for their first open water swim.

1. Get fitted for a wetsuit

You want to make sure you have a good fitting wetsuit. Get one too small and it will constrict your movements and breathing. Too big and it could fill with water preventing movement and not keep you warm. Your suit should be smooth. It should bunch anywhere. Make sure your shoulders are free to move and don’t feel restricted.

2. Find a calm open water environment

Something like a bay or harbor (where there aren’t a lot of boaters), a lake, or calm river where you can swim without getting rocked by waves. This will help you get used to the conditions that are much different from a pool.

3. Take your time

The first time you swim with a wetsuit, take your time. Just float around at first. Feel the difference in buoyancy (especially for salt water swimmers) and the different sensations that come with wearing a wetsuit. Swim a few strokes and then stop. See what it’s like to stop and tread water for a bit.

Of course, if you jump in and don’t feel any claustrophobia or fear get to swimming!

4. Practice Spotting

The only way to go in a straight line is to either have a perfectly balanced swim stroke or spotting. Spotting is briefly popping your head up to spot a buoy or landmark. I like to do it at the start of a stroke and breathe. This way I lift my head up, spot, then turn to breathe in my normal progression. You want to be careful you don’t push your hips down too far thus causing your body to go a little vertical and creating resistance, slowing you down.

5. Body Glide

There are different types of body glide out there. You’re going to want to rub this stuff on your under your arms and around your neck. Wetsuits cause friction and leave nasty rashes if you don’t do something to neutralize it. Using some sort of lubricant will also help you get your wetsuit off when in transition.

6. Practice Taking Off Your Wetsuit

You have all morning before a race to get your wetsuit on. You need to practice taking off a wet wetsuit. It’s tough to do this multiple times as a wet wetsuit is incredibly difficult to put on.

When you’re done with your swim take a second to catch your breath. Then sprint to the dock or beach as if you’re finishing a race. As you rise to your feet, reach back for your zipper and unzip. Start pulling the top half of your wetsuit off as you make your way to the beach. Leave your cap and goggles where they are until you’ve got your wetsuit around your waist. Then, when you get to your stuff throw your cap and goggles in your bag and start working your wetsuit off of your legs. You want to use as few movements as possible. When taking off your left leg, use your right to help pull it down by stepping your wetsuit.

If you can make this transition quick, you could save up to a minute on your transition time and could ultimately be the different between breaking your 1 hour goal for your next sprint race.


Open water swimming is a lot different than pool swimming. In the context of a race, it’s even more foreign. You need to work to get used to the different sensations and elements the open water has to offer. Get out there and do it. We’re going to be at Glorietta Bay every Monday evening for the summer. Come on out and join us!

Published by Bryan Monzon

USAT Certified and Swim Specialist.

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