Take up a new ocean sport and sharpen your skills

If you’ve become complacent in your ocean swims, or feel like you’ve plateaued when it comes to working with the ocean, there’s no better way to sharpen your skills and compliment your swimming than to take up a new ocean sport.

For me, surf ski paddling has helped develop my surf sense immensely. There is nothing like paddling a 5.79m fibreglass boat through the surf at Bondi Beach while trying not to kill anyone (including myself), or break my boat. The fear is real.

The consequences of being lazy or not paying attention are far greater when adding a large watercraft to the picture. You don’t just get knocked slightly backwards – you get smoked. The wave dumps on you, you fall out, your ski goes tumbling towards the shore (and hoards of people), and you do the awkward swim of shame with your paddle trying to chase it. Not fun.

With many shameful paddle-swims under my belt, I have become very patient when it comes to getting off the beach. I have learned the intricacies of a surf forecast. I am happy to carry my boat for hundreds of metres to paddle out in a safer spot. I’ll stand on the shore for many, many minutes until there is an appropriate lull to get out. I’ll sit out the back and wait for the big set waves to pass by, before taking a manageable one back to the beach.

Yet, when I’m swimming, I still often blindly follow the crowd and head out straight across a bank. After getting smashed, I think, “If I had my ski, where would I have gone?” Ahh, yes – 50m down the beach in the rip.

Jules runs over the finish line to win the 30-35 year Masters World Life Saving Championships in Adelaide 2018.

Swimming may not instil the same fear, but it doesn’t mean that we should ignore our better judgement and make our swim as difficult as possible.

Whether it is surf ski paddling, surfing, prone or SUP boarding, the addition of the craft encourages you to look at the ocean with fresh eyes. It forces you to learn to use the ocean to your advantage.

What is the easiest possible way I can get this craft out through the break without damaging people or equipment? Do I want to catch a wave in or wait for a lull? When the waves are this shape, are they likely to break on top of me? Why is everyone else on a board at the other end of the beach? I clearly need to be in a different spot to catch anything with a rideable face.

As with any new skill, we start as a beginner. We pick days when the conditions are manageable and conducive to learning. We get coaching and advice from someone who knows better. And we practice.

I guarantee that with more time in the water, on a new piece of equipment, with fresh eyes and proper motivation, you’ll reap the rewards in your ocean swimming endeavours.

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