• Technique

How to improve your swim into shore

Getting through the surf zone on your way back to shore can be challenging but not when you use these three smart tips to make your return to shore easier.

For many ocean swimmers, returning to shore through the surf zone is the hardest and most anxiety-inducing part of the whole ocean swimming experience.

There’s something about having the waves at your back and the ensuing sense of surprise that stifles our ability to relax and enjoy the last few strokes back to shore.

Here are three tips to help make your next swim back through the wave zone your best yet.

1. Ride the swell runners to the surf zone

When the swell is rolling in and you’re out the back, heading towards the wave zone, you’ll start to feel the swell runners roll in underneath you. You feel the swell lift you and give you a ride closer to shore.

To maximise these swell runners, you should aim to ‘ride’ the swell as much as possible.

Anticipate the swell by sighting behind regularly, and just as you feel the swell roll underneath you, increase your stroke rate and kick harder to ride the swell for as long as possible.

You won’t be able to keep up with it for long, but you’ll get a great lift and earn a body length or so just by swimming smarter. You’ll know the swell has moved ahead when it feels like you’ve dropped off the back of it.

A swimmer riding the swell into shore

2. Sight behind you through the surf zone

Do you sight backward when ocean swimming?

Sighting backward is just as important as sighting forward for ocean swimmers swimming in the surf.

Sighting backward helps us to know exactly where the waves are at all times in relation to us, and not just that, but what state the waves are likely to be in once they reach us (e.g. unbroken, breaking, broken).

When you know what’s coming and when it’s coming, you can make better decisions about what you’re going to do with it. Will you stop, face the wave and duck dive under it, ride the runner or body surf?

There are two techniques for sighting behind you:

  1. Sight backward under your arm. As you take a breath, turn your head to look under your armpit and past your legs to the water behind you. This technique is ideal for giving you a quick glimpse of what is coming behind you without having to change your stroke too much.
  2. Sight while backstroking. As you complete a breath, roll onto your back and begin backstroking, but, instead of looking at the sky, lift your head to look back towards the waves behind your feet (increase your kick rate and engage your core to stop your lower body from sinking). This technique allows more time to assess the swell lines and waves behind you.

3. Only stand when you know you’re shallow

Have you ever gone to stand up at the end of a swim and realised the seafloor is much deeper than it looked? It’s a regular mistake made by ocean swimmers who’re keen to stop swimming and get onto the beach.

To avoid this common mistake, follow the golden rule of only standing once your hand is scraping the sand.

A good way to determine what depth of water you are in is to stretch your arm out straight towards the bottom of the sea floor every now and then as you approach the shallows. If you can’t touch the sand, then you know to keep swimming but if you do touch the sand you know it is shallow enough for you to stand.

  • Written by Ocean Swims on 21 November 2023
  • (Updated on 21 November 2023)

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