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How to start an ocean swim fast or slow

Before you can start swimming, you need to get to the water.

With most ocean swims starting high and dry on the sand, how you make your way into the water will set up your swim.

When you’re called up to the start line, it’ll most likely be by category. The chances are your category will be determined by your age and gender, i.e. 30 to 40-year-old males, or it could be by your swim intent, i.e. Back of the pack, anything goes or elite.

To prepare for the start of your swim, as you make your way to the start line, have an idea of how you would like to approach your swim, this will help guide how you will start it.

Starting slow

For those looking to take things easy, with no interest in speed, hustle or winning, then the back of the starting group is the place for you on the start line.

  • Hang back as the group starts to get together on the start line
  • Position yourself on the side that will become the outside of the first turning buoy (i.e. if the first turn is right, then position yourself on the left)
  • When the gun goes off, wait for the people in front to head off and then slowly make your way to the water in your own space at your own pace
  • Walk gently through the water and push off into a glide to start swimming.

Starting like this will keep you away from the hustle and bustle, allow you to keep your breathing rate down closer to your swimming rate, and give you a better chance of smooth water allowing you to relax and enjoy your swim.

Watch Jules demonstrate a slow start

Starting fast

For those looking for a fast getaway to set themselves up for a quick swim and a chance at glory, then the front of the line is where you need to be positioned.

  • While you’re waiting for the start, check the direction you will be rounding the first turning buoy
  • When you’re called to the start line, head there early and position yourself at the front, on the inside of the course (i.e. if the first turn is right, then position yourself on the right)
  • Anticipate the start by watching the starter
  • When the gun goes off, immediately start to run for the water, building up as much momentum as possible
  • Depending on the depth of the water, you may need to wade and dolphin through the inshore, before throwing yourself into a dive and glide, making sure you carry the momentum from your run into the dive
  • Your start doesn’t finish here, swim off the beach at pace so you settle in the front group in clear, dense water.

Starting like this will give you the best chance to settle at the front of the pack, at the lead pace and set you up for a fast swim. To stay on pace or save energy, slip in behind a swimmer slightly faster and draft them as long as you can before using your saved up energy to pass as you near the finish.

Watch Jules demonstrate a fast start

Andre Slade

Andre is the owner of OceanFit with over 20 years in the swimming education, lifeguarding and coastal safety industry.

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