From a pure swimming point of view, when you transition from the pool to the ocean, your technique shouldn’t change.
All the fundamentals of the front crawl/freestyle technique remain the same.
Any additional ocean swimming techniques we add on to be more efficient in the open water and waves, need to be integrated as seamlessly as possible.
If you find yourself fighting the water, and using up energy quickly when you’re ocean swimming, then look first at these two potential symptoms.
Anxiety is causing you to shorten up
If you’re not relaxed in the open water, your body becomes tense, and you’ll tend to shorten up your stroke and increase your stroke rate. This will decrease your distance per stroke, and you’ll use more energy over a shorter distance.
When you’re swimming like this, you might also get the feeling that you’re swimming over every bump in the ocean.
To combat this, you need to relax, and you’ll be able to relax if you trust your knowledge, back your skills and develop your surf sense.
You’re swimming with your head up
Having a streamlined body position is essential to swimming efficiently. Whenever you lift your head up, even slightly higher than you would in the pool, your lower body/legs will sink down into the water, creating resistance that will cause you to fatigue faster.
When ocean swimmers aren’t confident they’ll see approaching waves, or stay on course, they tend to swim with their head up – usually with their eyes on the surface of the water keeping watch the whole time.
To combat this, you need to keep your head down, eyes slightly forward, with your hairline on the water surface at all times (as if you were still following the black line at the pool).
When you need to look up, integrate the sighting technique as you take a breath, and then get your head down into a neutral position as soon as possible.
There can also be a tendency to lift the head up as you glide through waves (like superman), as you’re initiating a dive or resurfacing from a dive, or when bodysurfing. So be mindful of your head position at these times as well, and keep it down in a neutral position for a streamlined, efficient, body position in the water.