Let it be said before we start that “theory” is never better than “practical”. I can tell you what to do but unless you actually practice what to do, you might not gain much from it. BUT THE GOOD NEWS, if you apply the below tips and instructions, you will definitely be better prepared next time you happen to find yourself on Suncoast Beach down in Durban. DBN ULTRA and TINMAN here you come
The Tinman Series is coming up this Sunday – this is the IDEAL training ground to hone your surf swim skills at this particular beach – even a practice session or two is advisable BUT with training buddies – not alone!
What do you need to know about that stretch of beach?
When the wind blows easterly, the surf will be rough and turn the waves into a mini washing machine
When the wind blows westerly (normally the wind that brings rain) the sea is flatter but it can arise to some gnarly swells out at backline
There is a sandbank around 30-40m off shore. At high-tide, you will not be able to stand on the bank but it does make for some bigger swells as you head out towards the backline
At low tide, you would be able to stand on the bank but this is where the “dumpers” grab you – hollow waves that rise up and dump down onto the sand (the type of wave you cannot body surf)
There is a channel zone 10-15m off the shore – if the current is strong, this is where it will work you over the most – depends on which way the wind blows – that normally determines the direction of the current
Okay so those are the basics if you were to stand on the beach and look at the spot where you are about to swim through.
What do I need to do before I even get in the water to start the race?
You need a good pair of goggles – no scratches – no leaks – better to have a clear lensed goggles pair so you can see better (trust me – dark goggles are useless in the sea) – a newer pair as well where the anti-fog lining is still in operation and does not fog up immediately (spit and anti-fog spray are not that great to sort the problem). Goggles will only last so long – if you find a pair you like, buy 2 pairs – 1 to train in – 1 to train with.
Grab 2 swim caps – secure the goggles on your head with your spare cap and put the official race cap on over this. This will ensure that when you dip under the waves, your goggles are not washed off your head as you start your swim out or even losing your goggles on the way into the beach at the last turn buoy
You need to warm-up – that means a little short swim before hand – get into the water and make sure you are comfortable with the surf swim conditions – swing your arms – do a few 10m sprints and just get your mind and head into the game – a warm-up swim is crucial to a good performance. You don’t want to start “cold”………HR at 70 resting up to 130-150 in about 10 secs – NOT A GOOD START. Make sure the HR is ticking and hot to trot
Make sure you are swim fit(ter) – the 1st 100-150m will take a lot more out of you than you think –fighting waves/currents and holding your breathe to dip under the waves requires huge effort – even the strong swimmers are sapped by the time they get past the back waves – the good news is you recover fast and the rest of the swim is normally a dawdle – expect the 1st 100-150 to be tough and hard
Start position – depending on the direction of the current – you stand on the side that is “with” the current. You will know which way the current is flowing because you have already warmed-up for 5 minutes right? Weak Swimmers? Stand on the extreme left or right of the start line Not in the front and not in the middle – nothing worse than having people swim on top of you – the swim is hard enough – stand to the sides – even if it means swimming a couple of extra metres – rather that and have some clear water to swim in. Swimmers are like ants, they will follow the leader and all take the same direction. This is not a bad thing because the lead swimmer normally knows where he/she needs to swim but give yourself a few extra metres either side will make a world of difference
How do I start the swim when the gun goes off? And what do I look for/do?
If you are not trying to win the race – don’t sprint into the water – walk or jog and take your time
As you enter the water, you are normally confronted by a few shore breakers – take your time at getting past these – even if you are stuck in what seems to be the same position for some time, be patient. The sea works in sequence – waves will come (5-6-7) at a time, after which, you are given a “break” from them. When this “break” period happens, you need to give it full gas and go hard so you are not hammered by the next set of waves which will come
You cannot “punch” through waves or try and swim over them. The water force will always win – once waist deep, you will need to duck under them – hold your breath – kick and use your arms to swim under them – then pop back up to the surface and do it again if necessary. This is the hard part of the surf swim for sure. Just be patient at this point and try and “read” the wave sets – when your opportunity comes and it will, you go hell for leather and start swimming hard – no doggie paddle – no breastroke – put the head down and do a 50m+ interval – you can rest out backline but cannot “rest” in the break zone.
Once you are past the back-line (last wave that breaks before the open water) you are in the safe zone – this is where you can swim a little slower and lower the heart rate and get back into a pace that you are able to maintain for the rest of the swim
Land Markers – if the swell is relatively big on race day, you will battle to see the market buoys. I use land markers – there is a massive water tower on the hill in the distance towards Umhlanga. If you keep that water tower to your right and the block of flats at the Umgeni River (Blue Lagoon – you will see them, cannot miss them) to your left and swim inside that line, you will find the market buoys. You also need to lift your head every few strokes and make sure you stay in course – don’t swim blind – extra metres make you extra tired.
Passing the last turn-buoy – make sure you swim around 100m before – (once you reach that outer limit where the big waves possible are breaking) you start looking behind you. You need to know what waves are amassing from behind so you are prepped to take the hit if you see it coming. Far too often, triathletes swim with blinkers on and head straight for shore. They then get dumped by an un-expected wave – lose their goggles – get cramps and feel like they are almost drowning
Watch the wave – face the wave – take a deep breath – submerge and take the hit. You need to relax and allow the wave force to pop you back to the surface in about 2-3 secs at most. With enough air in your lungs, you can stay under for 60 secs if need be. Point being you were expecting it so you never got smacked like the others would have who did not see it coming
The last 50-100m at the finish beach is normally frequented by a strong rip heading out to sea. What does that mean? It basically means you are swimming on a treadmill and you better keep swimming until your feet touch the sand. Once you are in that zone, you stand and you are done. Some swimmers make the mistake of seeing the beach about 20-30m away and taking the foot off the gas – wrongJ put your foot on the gas and hammer the last few metres – the backwash is strong but you are strong