Overcoming Fear In Open Water Swimming

Part 7 of 9 – Familiarity With The Environment

The third part of our strategy is Familiarity: Familiarity with the environment (water, surrounding terrain, and weather) and familiarity with the swimmer (yourself) that is swimming in it.

It might be helpful to use this simile- As a swimmer in OW, you are like a pilot of a sailing vessel navigating that open-water. Your body is the vessel and your mind (and heart) is the pilot. A good pilot knows their water way very well and knows the vessel’s capabilities and vulnerabilities. As a swimmer you are managing both your body and your mind, while making decisions about where to go and how to move through that waterway. And hopefully most of all, beyond all that you are enjoying the journey.

I will just give a sample of details you can think about as you prepare yourself to be a master swimmer, piloting your own body with skill and confidence in your favorite body of open-water.

To increase familiarity with your waterway get to know:

  • The behavior and strength of currents and tides.
  • The seasonal changes in water chemistry, clarity, and quality.
  • Weather patterns, and their sudden worst-case scenarios.
  • The possible sudden-weather-related changes in water chemistry, clarity, and quality (for instance the possibility of sewage spills after a heavy rain, or silt being stirred up by an offshore storm).
  • Water temperatures and variations by season and even during the day, or according to the tide or currents.
  • Frequency and type of boat and swimmer traffic
  • Underwater topography and features
  • Wildlife & underwater creatures (dangerous, those that indirectly point to danger, and those that are merely interesting), and the ecosystem (for instance, in the Oregon Pacific surfers know that salmon runs in fall mean sea-lions in pursuit, and sea lions mean a Great White shark may travel that far north following the food chain…)

Maybe it’s too obvious of an idea, but I suggest that you pick one route, in one body of water and work on mastering that area first, before moving on to new locations and challenges. When sticking to one spot for a while, you can make it ‘your own’. By becoming a regular swimmer at a certain spot you will gain many advantages in being able to anticipate the conditions and subtle changes of the waterway and stay in control of your experience. Your confidence will increase, and then you can expand your open-water range gradually, starting out of your well-known ‘home’ water, and giving you a reference point to compare as you get to know new places.

The understanding of your environment will remove the much of power behind the fear of the Unknown. When strange or unexpected things happen you will have a deposit of information to use to figure out what is going on and how you can respond to it. This will give your mind something productive to do, and facts you can make better decisions upon.

Ignorance is the best petri dish for letting fear to grow out of control. There is bravery based on knowledge and then there is bravery led by ignorance. Which is more admirable? Which encourages a longer life-span? Let’s be brave and get out there to explore our wild waterways.

And, let’s be smart about it.

Here are the topics covered in this series:

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