A strong rip current and big swell always gets my blood pumping. There were two swimmers ahead of me who took the corner wide, while I ran the gauntlet and hugged the reef where the current was weaker. Luckily I caught a wave in and avoided a few scrapes on the shallow reef. As I waded out of the water I circled up in the shallows with the other swimmers. We had a laugh and a chat about how sketchy it was out there. We realized we had been watching each other.
Sport with a little bit of trouble bonds people together.
Swimming is an all-body workout. It strengthens your muscles, heart, and brain. It’s better than any medicine out there.
Swimming is gentle on the joints. It’s the opposite of running, which is like putting your knees and hips through a meat shredder.
You can’t bring your phone into the water, so it’s a forced disconnect. No checking your phone when stretching or taking a breather.
It’s brain yoga. There’s a lot of stuff going on in the water that keeps your lizard brain firing. Will a shark eat you? Is the swell or current knocking you off track? Is that a fish or a turtle? A dynamic environment keeps you in the moment and gets you out of future thinking or past thinking.
Swimming in cold water requires more energy from your body to keep you warm and regulate temperature. That’s a workout in itself.
You will meet like-minded people and build a community over time. That’s good for your mental state mind.
Living close to the ocean is good for your health and longevity.
After the swim, you get to have a hot cup of tea and warm up.
I never swim late in the day because the water is darker and fewer people are out. But today, the later afternoon was the only time I had.
The wind had picked up, and the beach was empty. I was tempted to turnaround and leave. I finally saw someone else in the water, and I decided to head in.
I was still nervous and hugged the shoreline. It’s comforting when I can see the bottom, and I have an exit strategy even if it means clambering over the rocks. I was getting pushed around by waves in the shallows, and the visibility sucked. It was exhausting. I realized I was paying for my anxiety.
When I turned for home, I decided to go deep and swim out into the deeper water channel. Everything inside of my head and around me calmed immediately down. The swells were more spaced out, and the visibility was spectacular. I got out of my head and focused on one stroke at a time.
There’s a tax to mitigating risk. My mitigation was swimming close to the shoreline, and the charge was a bumpy, murky ride. No fun. Once I was more comfortable, I didn’t have to pay that tax anymore, and I went deep. It paid off that afternoon.
If you de-risk your life, be prepared to pay the tax.
I spent some time in the sea this summer, and it reminded me that the more acquainted I become with ocean swimming, the more respect I have for the ocean. I found some sage safety advice from Michael Christie and Australian ironman Craig Riddington on staying safe in the surf. I couldn’t help but chuckle and think that this information may as well apply to most things in life.
I’ve taken Michael’s points and added more context and color in italics.
Know your limits as a swimmer. Oceans aren’t swimming pools, and every swim is different. Understand the bail out areas. Know and understand your beach.
Never panic. Always keep calm. When you panic you start using up precious energy that you’ll need to get back to shore. Panic clouds your judgment. I’ve seen people swim in the wrong direction because they get disorientated.
Time entry and exit to set waves. Timing is everything. The ocean is more powerful than you. Take a walk on a beach sometime note the massive trees washed ashore. That’s raw power. Don’t fight it, go with the flow.
Go out on the rip current. Study your surroundings. Don’t fight the flow. Go with the flow. An Olympic swimmer will lose one-on-one against a strong ocean current.
Come in on the sandbank. Surf in on the waves, feel the sand under your feet. Just because you see the shore doesn’t mean you can swim straight in.
Swim a maintainable pace so you:
Keep your breath. Breath slowly, stay calm and feed your body.
Keep your energy. Don’t burn calories worrying. Pick your exit, don’t fight the ocean and go with the flow
Keep your courage.