Open Water by Scott Bay (2011)


My name is Scott Bay. I am the vice chair of the USMS coaches committee. I am an open water swimmer. I am a former competitive triathlete. I say former just because I haven’t had enough time to train. I’m also a former bicycle racer. I was catu and I was a bad catu. Don’t get too carried away with that. And the reason why I was a sponsored triathlete for a number of years is because I was really good in the swim and I was a formidable cyclist but I ran like a pregnant elephant.

So one of the things that does happens too is – just a little bit about my background, I coach for Team Bluefrog in Florida. Our most notable member at the moment is [Inaudible] [0:00:54]. Not that I coach him, he just says go do whatever he wants with these other people and I’ll go do my work out. But one of the things I really enjoy is open water swimming and I’ve done many 5K’s, 10K’s, 1 miles, 2 miles, and things like that.

This is actually a very general introduction to open water swimming for master’s coaches. For those of you who are expecting Paul Wise, I’m going to apologize to you in advance and I’m going to turn my back in a second if you want to walk out. It’s not going to hurt my feeling. He had to cancel unexpectedly so we kind of put this together at the last minute. So here, I’m going to turn my backs if you want to walk out.

Okay, so open water one on one for coaches. This is very basic knowledge. Good, thank you because my friends that are here, you should still be here. We’re going to just talk about a brief history of open water swimming and most of the stuff can be found online because Google knows everything. But I’m working on notes here.

In about 36 B.C. the Japanese actually organized the first open water swim and it was won by [Inaudible] [0:02:00]. So there you go, but from there on the Romans in the Middle Ages, everything. There were lots of open water swims that happened in natural estuaries and bays and things like that.

And, in 1844, the genesis of America’s swim was actually won by Native Americans because it was a challenge between the British and the Americans. And the British were all swimming breast stroke and Native Americans swam freestyle, so huge offset. But in 1896, the original Olympics for swimming events, and then in 1916, this lawyer pointed out earlier, La Jolla rough water swim was inaugurated in that year. So this is a lot of years that’s been on, almost a hundred.

And then let us see, some of the founders for this sport like John Kinsella, won the gold medals and the silver medals was the first of several professionals who decided they would form the World Marathon Swim Foundation. This is kind of the origins of this particular sport and it’s so different from pool swimming in a lot of different ways. We’re going to get into that in just a minute. In 2006, actually the Olympic committee decided that we would add the 10K swim to Beijing Olympics.

One of the things just neat about that, if you look back and if you look at the podium from Beijing, and you look at the 1500 meter times for all of those guys who were on the podium, it wasn’t the fastest guy in terms of 1500 meter pool swims that won.

So where we are now, there’re actually 4,000 plus events worldwide in open water swimming. It’s huge overseas. We’re kind of just getting into this in the United States. But in the Asia’s specially, there are open water swims that have 18,000 participants.

Now I want you to think about that for just a minute. If you are the race director, of a swim that includes 18,000 people or better yet, if you’re the safety person and you have to account for 18,000 people, that’s amazing to me. The fast go ahead.

Speaker 2: Are you a traveler or that’s just [Inaudible] [0:04:56].

Scott Day: That’s just strictly open water swimming and obviously triathlons at a whole are a different dynamic too, but yes absolutely. The fastest growing demographic in this sport is women 30 to 40. And for us as master’s coaches, as master’s athletes, this is an untapped market. It’s like this is one of the biggest drivers of our sport, is women 30 to 40.

Speaker 3: They don’t like to play the pools anymore.

Scott Day: They don’t like to convene the pools anymore.

Speaker 3: That’s what it is; they don’t like to play the pools than open water.

Scott Day: understood.

Speaker 3: Because it’s mass start, everybody’s against everybody else because they don’t feel that pressure of me competing against you. It’s just we’re going to have fun.

Scott Day: And that could very well be; there’re a lot of different reasons where that could be true. And the other thing is, I’m going to come back to this again. It’s not always the fastest. Sometimes it’s the smartest, the luckiest, or the best. It could one of the three that wins the race. This is where it becomes different.

The fastest growing trends are triathlon: we get lot of cross over from multi sport athletes, so they’re coming into this sport, open water swimming, because they are trying to improve their swim time. They’re trying to gauge themselves. They’re trying to prepare for a triathlon event such as Iron Man, Half Iron Man, even a sprint. So a lot of events that we do are relatively different distances and everything like that, but this is where we are right now.

So what makes it more different from pool swimming is the course of course. There’s no black line to follow. And depending on the conditions and this is about the conditions; you have all different elements that are involved in this. And there’s wind, there’re waves, there’s current, there’s temperature. The entire environment is just completely different.

You don’t have a lot of the things that we talk about when we talk about pool swimming, like you’ve really got to have good transitions, you’ve got to have good turns, and you’ve got streamlines, good breakouts and stuffs like that. Some of those skills do transfer into open water. But one of the things that is really important about open water is just being a very good technician and a lot of the race strategies and things that we’ll talk about in just a little bit, really planned whether you’re going to be on the podium or not.

Scott Day: Race strategy: one of the things that happens is this is not like swimming sides. And in your master’s workout, there is going to be a lot of contact. And one of the things that’s really different about open water swimming, especially if its mass start where there’s 2 or 3,000 people in there, you’re going to get elbowed, kneed, punched, kicked, whatever. And it’s, “I don’t want to say never,” a lot of times it’s not intentional. It just is part of the sport. So you have to be prepared for that.

Other things that are different: there’s a different change in your stroke too. If you have a lot of swells or the one that I hate the most is the one that’s choppy because I have to shorten up my stroke a lot. There’re lots of really big swells and stuffs and I can just swim up and down waves. I’m good. But when it’s choppy and I have to change my stroke because I have to push down to get a little bit more air. That part I hate, but anyways it changes the game just a little bit.

The external challenges are a lot of different things and they involve all of your senses. First of all sight is going to be diminished. It’s not like swimming in this nice clear pool where you have this black line to follow and there’s a little T there and you know that’s the wall. You don’t know when you’re swimming straight necessarily.

Hearing: for those of you, who are familiar with doing this, you’ve been in the open water and you haven’t like, some of us use earplugs when it’s cold. But I typically don’t when it’s warmer. You can hear in water much better than you can hear in air because of the mechanical wave and it travels farther in water. And for this you don’t know I teach calculus and physics in my real life. But I don’t know, doesn’t look very bright, does he?

But your hearing is diminished because it’s not what you’re typically used to. Your touch again if it’s cold, salt water is also different too. The taste again, different than chlorine and stuff like that, these are all things that are the elements of what we do.

And you smell, perfumes, dead fish, all kinds of things that go into this and this changes the game just a little bit. And you may not think these are important elements but they are. Things that will definitely have an impact on your race or definitely on the racers, one of the things that is interesting about open water is you don’t want to go ahead and say, “Hey, I want to accomplish this time or that time or the other thing.” One of the things that does happen though is racing in the open water is very much like bicycle racing I found in a lot of different ways. And it’s different for men and women though. I’ll tell you why. I was head was forced enough that last time I was out here in San Diego, I drove up to the [Inaudible] [0:10:09] open water championships. And what was amazing is watching the guys race which was awesome. So it was the run base up there. And they stay together kind of as a pack and we’re on the last 150 meters of this race. And there’re like 9 guys and they would just slug it out right. So then it becomes a matter of tactics and race strategy. So what they do is they start out with a really hard pace and they kind of cleared out the suckers and then what they did is they backed it off just like we do in bike racing. Clear out all the amateurs. Let’s go ahead and let’s sort it out amongst the professionals, and that was the guy’s race.

Women on the other hand were a little more brutal. They went, they just put the foot on the gas. They were ready to go. I mean, it was hard from the get go. So all these things make a different thing, so if you’re one of those people like, “hey, I’m ready to go.” If you think you’re stronger than any other athlete foot on the gas and ready to go.

Temperature of the the water and there’s been a lot that has been made of course since Fran Crippen and everything like that and it’s both extremes. It’s both the warmest temperatures and the colder temperatures. And one of the things, because I’m from Florida, I don’t like to get into cold water, because I’m a big baby. But when it gets to be about 85, 86°, for me I’m not comfortable in there because it feels like my goggles are shrinking and my cap is shrinking. So I’m not exactly sure what all the physiological elements are involved in that, but these are things that are definitely a part of it. Same thing with cold water, it’s like I just realized that my life is going to suck for about 9 or 10 minutes before I really get warm. I don’t wear a wet suit typically because it screws up my stroke but I will do that.

And there are other things that are involved in open water swimming that we don’t typically have in pool swimming that are natural elements such as seaweed, sea spines and all kinds of weird other things. Typically, these are things you don’t find in a pool.

Those, for example, dolphins, this is actually a picture that was taken off the coast of Florida and where I swim and I’ve actually had people actually take out second mortgages to do this but I’ve actually swum with dolphins before. And one of the neat things about it is you can hear the whistles and clicks long before you’ll ever see them. The one experience I had just recently, I mean there were like from me to you. It was like right there and I was like, “wow okay.” And then we decide to end the swim there because while they’re dolphins, they’re still wild animals.

Florida, we actually had a swim in the spring and this is when our friend are kind of a little unnerving at times. Sting rays, which are also a lot of fun if you’re ever in shallow water, warm water specially, this will affect the start. I’ll talk about later on.

The thing I hate the most, of all the things I’ve shown you so far. The scariest thing for me is jellyfish. Because I’ve been stung many times, actually more than I’d like to admit. But one of the worst ones was the bluebottle which is like a Portuguese man-of-war type of thing. And it got me here around my face and as I stroke in, it got me right underneath the arm, around the back, and then to my inner thigh, when this was in my one of a 5K so that was not a good thing. But those evil little bustards I can’t stand.

Anyways, there are lots of different types of open water swims. The venues that we use, you can use lakes, rivers, rowing basins, and of course oceans. Again, living in a place where the beach is part of the municipal name, it’s also nice to have that facility available to you. But if you’re living in the middle of Arizona or something like that, maybe not so much. So these are all the venues where they will typically hold an open water race and they go various distances too.

There’re different types of open water swims. There’s a point to point race. That means you start one place and you end up in another place and there’s a bus or some sort of conveyance that brings you from one place to another when you’re not swimming.

Circuit races, those are the ones that are typically triangular or box or rotten box type swimming. Cable swims, these are not as popular as they used to be, but there are still a couple of good ones that are still around. Cable swims are kind of having a lane aligned right there with you so across a lake or a sound or something like that. They’ll layout a cable and you just swim alongside the cable. That’s a little more surgical in terms of the distance and some of these others.

Escorted swims: those will be the ones where you have kayaker, a paddle boarder or a boat that will escort you.

Relays: some of the most famous ones right now is like, there’s the Trans Tahoe relay. There’s the Mary relay that’s just recently, actually last weekend. And these are all various distances as well. One of the things with relays that are fun is you get together with a group of friends and you’re on a boat and you get to exchange and just swim for a x mile of distance and anything else. These are all various distances. It just depends on the venue, so it could be anywhere from 1K to 24 miles, 25 miles. They swim around the sound. There’s the one that we do in Florida which is the 10th bay around the base swim which is 24 ½ miles. You can do it solo or as a relay. My personal favorite is relay. There’s also Key West. Swimming Key West which is 12 ½ miles.

The primary skills for training athletes in the open water, there’re a lot of them. And this is what makes it different and distinct and this is something you can do in the pool as well.

Swimming straight, everybody swims in a circle, regardless of how expert you are in swimming. Everybody does swim in a circle, it’s just simply a matter of a fact of life. It’s simply a matter of whether or not the diameter of your circle is 10 ft. or 10 miles. So the ones, who “swim’s straight,” they’re very good at making sure that they’re symmetrical with their stroke and they actually contract on a very nice line.

Now this does not always happen though because of current conditions, temperature, wind, everything else. Other things that happen, there are open water skills we need such as sighting. So it’s obviously important to know where you’re going. When you’re in the open water typically it’s not just clean, clear pool water.

Sometimes in the Caribbean, which is really nice, you can see to a depth of 30 or 40 ft. and that’s not a problem. But what does happen is when you’re in most other places in the worlds, specially lakes and things like that, what you do get is a diminished vision. You can’t really see where you’re going and there’s no black line to follow, so it really kind of sucks in that respect. But having that skill is really important.

Drafting, this is a really important skill. Especially important in cycling, but it works very well in swimming as well and we’ve all seen the Olympics, where you got the guys hugging the lane line because they’re trying to pick up the draft from somebody who is maybe ahead of them that they’re trying to pass.

Then turning gullies, this is another skill that we don’t emphasize when we’re doing pool swimming. It’s certainly not something in a lot of our master’s workouts. But if you’ve got triathletes and open water swimmers, this is a skill they definitely need to home in on. Because this is, man you can lose 3, 4, 5 body lengths and position just by having a crappy turn.

So also starts and finishes, and there’s a lot of different types of starts and finishes. You can start from a dock, you can start from the beach, and you can start in the water. Sometimes it’s like okay ankle deep only or sometimes on the beach. And these are all different things that are different elements to that same race which makes it completely different.

So anyways, here we go. Swimming straight, everybody swims in a circle as I said. The drills for swimming straight are really kind of basic and I’m just going through this very quickly. One of the ones I’d like to do the most is especially when we’re set up for long course seasons in the pool.

Have them close their eyes and just take 10 strokes and if they are still right on top of the black line, they’ll swim pretty straight. A lot of the triathletes that we coach, they tend to breathe or side breathe more often than they need to, like every 3 or 4 or 5 strokes. So every time you’re lifting that head, because your center of buoyancy is right here, those hips are going to sink so its start stop, start stop, start stop swimming.

So when you get those athletes to come out of the water, “Wow, I was a ½ mile swimming, it took me 20 minutes. But my 800 time is something else.” Well, yes there are a couple of different reasons for that. Maybe it’s the [Inaudible] [0:19:38] crappy but the other part is maybe it’s because you’re lifting your head too much.

Yes sir.

Next speaker: For a medium experienced swimmer, where distance is not a challenge anymore. They can swim a mile or two, whatever, they think they can swim. How often would you suggest they sight. What is your experience?

Scott Day: Well, my experience tells me a couple of different things. And this is one of the reasons I mentioned the close your eyes thing. If you do this drill where you send them one at a time so they’re not banging into each other’s backs and. Close your eyes, take ten strokes. If you’re still right on the same line, you’re good.

So if they’re banging off the lane lines one way or the other, that’s indicative that we have a couple of problems with them if them pull to the right, pull to the left, whatever it happens to be. But that’s important feedback because now they know. It’s like why I tend to pull to the right so I’m going to steer left. Does that make sense?

Next Speaker: absolutely.

Scott Day: Okay does that makes your question too?

Next Speaker: Yes.

Scott Day: Okay. Perfecting the straight swim, part of that is going to also be it just takes practice. So again if we have a swimmer that pulls to the right, you have to make sure that they compensate for that. It’s like, “Well, look at this stroke.” Do we need to change the stroke or do we need to change the way we swim or the way we navigate. It depends. Again if there’s one right answer for this that would be really easy. But there’s not so it depends on whatever the athlete you have in front of you does that you should look at.

So if they’d typically breathe to the right and they love breathing to the right, they can breathe to the left if they don’t like it very much. And they pull to the right or pull to the left, you want to work with whatever they’re comfortable with but you also want to make sure that you’re doing everything you can to make sure they’re as fast as they can be in a straight line.

One of the neat things about doing open water, work in the pool is just very surgical. It’s clean, it’s something, it’s a very safe environment. You’ve got a pool deck you can walk around and observe things from different angles. So one of the things we encourage coaches to do is practicing skills in that controlled environment, which you don’t want to do and say, “Hey, we’re going out in the ocean and we’re going to practice some skills.”

Because you can’t just stop and say, “hey, we’re going to do this, that, and the other thing.” In the pool environment, it’s easy to practice basic skills, develop those basic skills and then transfer them to the open water.

So rights and wrongs of sighting, there’re a lot of these things that are – and these are not hard and fast rules. It just really depends on the conditions in the environment and the swim.

When you’re sighting, one of the things that we do, there’re a couple of different ways to do it. If you press down the front of your freestyle stroke, you can just push down with your hands, which we don’t recommend for we always like that nice, good early vertical forearm, nice good catch and everything like that. One of the things that helps us to sight in the open water, is you do that hand with the palm parallel to the bottom of the ocean, lake, or whatever. And you push down to get that extra little lift up, okay.

One of the neat things about that is it just gets you high enough out of the water so you can see where you’re going. The bad thing about that is because here’s your center of buoyancy right, in the middle of your chest because this is where the lungs are and they’re full of air so they float.

This obviously manipulates like a teeter-totter as you lift this end, the hips are going to sink. So you can compensate for that in a couple or different ways. A lot of people compensate for that by having a stronger kick but the other thing is you’re still going to drop down and it’s going to take a little more energy.

So getting back to that horizontal from the vertical, more vertical position is really important. So one of the things we encourage people to do is, “if you’re going to have to take that big, huge, real, quick look, make sure you push your chest down to get those hips back up so you could be right back on horizontal.

So how often you do it is going to be dictated by conditions as well as whether or not your circle which you swim is either 10 ft. or 10 miles. So some people can swim 25, 30, 40 strokes and be laser straight. Other people, they have to go ahead and look every 7, 8, 9 strokes. And it’s also going to be dependent on who you’re with. If you’re racing with people that know, that are straight swimmers, I’m drafting on that person because I’m just around their hip, let them do the steering, and I’m just going to stay in my nestle and groove there and that’s awesome.

So, the drills that we do for sighting, we do a couple of different really good ones. We do, of course, we call it Tarzan down in Florida, but it’s water pool swim with the head up. This is great also for freestyle swimming too because all of sudden all your freestylers really emphasize the importance of head position in terms of how easy or hard it is to swim. But the other thing is it gets you aware of how high up your head will be and also how much your hips will sink in that respect.

So other things we do, we do another drill called the surfing the goggles, so just right to here, lifting your head just to the point where they’re right below your goggles. That’s why you call it surfing the goggles. You’re still going to breathe to the sides. You’re still going to really breathe. But you’re just taking a quick little peek and this is a great drill for when conditions are flat.

The other thing we do is we also work on just timing drills in terms of when conditions are really choppy or there’s a large swell, being able to take a look at the top of the swell and they’re swimming down the other side of it.

Sight and navigation, these are really hard things to do in the pool. But one of the things we do with that is we just take all the lane lines out and this is as cheap as you can get.

You’re going to like this. One of the things that we did on the beach is we got some weights and some strength and blow-up balls that you get, the ones that the rubber band one the side and you can bounce them like that and they can inflate doing a diameter of like 18 or 20 inches. So you don’t have to get like, big swim fluggle things that cost thousands of dollars. You just go to the dollar store or family dollar or whatever it is out here and you spend 5 bucks and all of a sudden you have open water swimming equipment so you can go ahead and train those folks and do quartering, rounding and stuff like that, also sighting. So there you have it.

Our sighting and passer stroke I think I talked about this just a little bit. If your head lifts up and your hips sink down all, of a sudden it’s start stop, start stop swimming. And the reason that your car gets better gas mileage on the highway is because it’s easier to maintain a velocity than to accelerate to a velocity.

So every time you do something that diminishes that momentum, like lifting your head to sight, that’s going to go ahead and cost you energy because now you’re slowing down and then you have to accelerate again to get back to velocity.

Drafting, this is one of the neat things we can learn from geese for example. My background, I started out life as a naval architect marine engineer, is in hydrodynamics. So and then you take somebody like me and I’ve been coaching swimming for 23 years or so and you get this.

Aerodynamics and hydrodynamics are very close. The odd difference is the medium you’re travelling through. Aerodynamics, if you look at the way geese fly in echelon, they’re going to get that draft not right behind like in cycling. You’re going to get it to the side.

Now one of the debates we had yesterday as a matter of fact was where is that? Is that closing towards the hip or is it back towards the knee or the shin or the calf. Well, it depends and this is one of the things as you get to the point where you’ve coached athletes enough so that they can feel that. They’ll work that before and after position to the point where in how close it is to 6 inches, 8 inches. Well it depends on who you’re drafting on as well.

If you’re on the highway and you’re trying to draft off a Lamborghini, that’s going to be different from drafting off a semi-truck with a driller. So all the things that get played into when we talk about what is the ideal drafting position. Typically it’s not directly behind. Not to say that you can’t get an advantage in terms of a draft from directly behind somebody, but if they ever really have a powerful kick, you’re not going to get as much.

You’re going to feel like you are because the water’s rushing past your face. But that’s because their feet are pushing it towards you. So it’s almost like somebody’s putting their hand on your forehead. You know like, “Man, this is great. I feel like I’m swimming really fast.” And then you get a look at [Inaudible] [0:28:36]. Well, maybe not as much.

So people that have weaker kicks, because they’re swimming in that column of water and in that boundary lane, all that water is moving with them. They could kind of suck you on just like sitting behind a tractor trailer. They’ll going to pull you along as long as they don’t have a strong kick.

So side, right behind or the other side, these are all things that you have to decide as you’re working with athletes and it’s again highly dependent on the situation. If you typically like to breathe to the right and this person’s here on your right and they’re a strong kicker, and you’re getting splashed in the face all the time, you’ll probably need to change sides. So we’re going to talk about that too.

Changing position, that’s another good example. It’s like there’re a couple of different strategies or skills for changing position. One of my favorites, because I think it’s fun to do, is when you take that one backstroke stroke and go right across to the legs and then come right over the top. Okay. If they’re a strong kicker and you kick to the face, that’s up to you but if I like to switch from right to left. This is an example where I’m not going to lose momentum, because again we don’t want start stop swimming, start stop swimming, none of that. We want to maintain that momentum. We’re going to keep that draft and you want to keep that position. You don’t want to have to stop.

The other thing you can do is dock under, if you’ve got the lung capacity and the gills to do it, by all means scoot right under. This is a great thing to do especially to turns and then when to go when you’re in a – especially in a pack swimming. Pack swimming is good which you want to be is you got to be on the right side, or the left side or which you don’t want to be is in the middle. The middle is like a washing machine. So knowing when to go is really an important skill as well.

If you’re with a group and everybody sucks at navigating except for you, is it better to stay with a group and try and conserve that energy or is it better to go off on your own and make sure you’re taking the straightest line? That’s a tough question. These are all race risk time decisions but these are all things that factor into it. Also it’s like, if you think about current is on this way, that way and the other way, and nobody else knows except for you because you’re local, you have to know when to go.

Turning buoys, there’re a lot of different methods of turning buoys. My three favorites, I again like the one stroke of backstroke because you can bend with the waist where in trying to bend with the side here so you can make a very sharp turn or you can corner very quickly. The other one I like is, it’s kind of like you use one hand as a rudder so it’s vertical and you paddle with the other hand. So I’m going to paddle this way and I can turn very quickly that way as well. The other thing I like about turning buoys is the ducking under method. As you approach the buoy, typically that’s when it’s going to gang up a little bit and it’s really hard to establish your position and maintain it if there’re like six people specially that first one or 16 or 60 people trying to make it around the buoy right at the same time.

So you definitely have to make sure you’re managing your speed because again that acceleration takes a lot more energy out of you than it does to maintain that velocity.

Foul, one of the biggest things that happen for DQs in terms of open water swimming and a penalty for triathlon is impeding another swimmer. Now, what does that mean? It beats the heck out of everybody. Actually it’s just if you’ve done something either intentionally or unintentionally to impede another swimmer, it doesn’t matter whether or not you intended to do it, it’s the result that happens that causes the foul. So, one of the things you want to make sure you’re doing is you’re making those corners, making those turns because a lot of chance that’s where people come together. What you don’t want to do is make sure – you want to make sure you’re not impeding another swimmer in the sense that you’re going to incur a foul.

Starts and finishes. There’re a lot of different ways to start and finish. There’s in water, on land, on the dock, on the boat. One of the most famous examples of boat starts is right up here in San Francisco for the [Actera] [00:33:05] swim, all of which include a different skill set. If you’re starting on land, it’s going to be in common upon the racer or the coach of the racer or both, to make sure that you know what you’re running into. This is where it’s a good idea to make sure that you get a good warm out even if it’s cold, because if it’s a nice long, shallow, easy approach into the water everybody is good. If it’s like, okay, here’s two feet of nice sandy beach and then it drops off, that’s going to be a problem. These are the things that you’ll need to know. What the terrain of the bottom is like is really important. And water starts are a little bit different. They typically will line you up, here to here, buoy to buoy, or buoy to boat, or boat to boat. And everybody has to be behind it. This is where it’s a good idea – and one of the biggest mistakes people make is they tread water like this, vertical position. One of the things you want to do is as you get closer and closer and closer to the start, you want to make sure you’re in your horizontal position. So, a lot of the water pool drills we do we’re just scaling out here and kicking here and all of sudden you’re already in a horizontal position. All you have to do is put you face in the water and go. So, all those things are good stuff.

On a dock, this is typically you’re going to be diving in because it’s a platform that’s anchored out in the – either in a basin or whatever the venue happens to be, so, the techniques for those in-water starts, just like I said, with the scaling out here and kicking.

Let’s see. Land starts; again, as I said, you want to make sure you know the terrain of the bottom of the water before you get in there. And the last thing is knowing where to be and when to be there. This just seems like kind of common sense but the race starts and you’re still screwing around with your goggles, that’s a bad thing. Knowing where to be also indicates that you have knowledge of which direction the currents are going or which way the wind is pushing you or anything else.

So, let me give you an example from my own personal experience. One of the races I really enjoyed doing is Ed Gaw Water Challenge which is in Fernandina Beach up by Jacksonville where we’re having convention. And it’s a point to point race in a 5K. And it just depends on the particular time of the year and what the weather conditions are like because sometimes that current is just ripping from south to north. Now, if the buoy is directly in front of me, I want to be over there because I want to swim for this buoy but since the current is pushing me this way, I don’t want to have to swim back to the inside current. So, I’m going to be – make sure I’m on the right place, right time for the right start.

Well, I’m doing pretty good. Here’s a good example. This is a video that I got from Mike Collins just a little while ago, but I think it’s kind of funny so…

[Video playing]

Scott Bay: So, I’m not an endorser or anything by [Inaudible] [00:36:32] but I thought – he thought that was funny, I thought it was hysterical. I’ve seen that before and he was like, “Oh yeah, we got to put that in there.” At any rate, yeah, that’s a – but getting it done in the pool, when you’re talking about reviewing the skills that we talk about for open water swimming, those adaptations for the pool that I talked about it’s like all those little drills like closing your eyes, surfing the goggles, Tarzan or water polo struggle, heads up, freestyle, whatever you call it, those are all great skills so make sure that you do those in the pool.

Doing it on the cheap. I told you about my five bucks worth of turn buoys that I got. Again, you don’t have to go and spend thousands and thousands of dollars; you just had to be okay with your venue to say, “Okay. Let’s put some weights in the pool now. Oh, they’re not good. It’s like [whirlwind] [00:37:23] like you’re putting four-year-olds in here. They’re okay.” And taking it from the pool to the venue, just making sure that you have an opportunity not just to practice those skills but also to organize a time or a practice where you take those athletes and train those skills in the pool and take them to a venue, like a lake or a river or something like that, where they can practice them for real. Because, as we all know, if you’ve ever done an open water swim, especially for me, cold water, I have to get in and swim because the minute that cold water hits my face it takes my breath away, I hate that. If you’re swimming in a lake or something like that and there’s a lot like, not seaweed, it’s just a – in Florida it’s something really goofy, but there’s such a lot of moss or algae or something like that on the bottom. You want to be aware of that because you’ve got to understand there’s going to be certain amount of freak out factor.

Here’s – I like this one too, got this one from Mike as well.

[Video Playing]

Scott Bay: And those things are just – I think that’ funny as hell too. So, at any rate –some things we’re going to be talk about are race tactics, it’s like – you have to know the conditions. One of the best things to do if you’re at a venue that you’re unfamiliar with because it’s not in your backyard, find the locals, get the local knowledge. If there’s a lifeguard there or something like that, they know what the bottom is like, they know what the currents are like, they know what the obstacles are, ask them. Typically they’ll tell. So, that local knowledge is really important.

If you’re swimming in longer race like 5Ks, 10Ks and stuff like that, feeds are going to be very important. If it’s in an escorted swim, it’s a whole lot easier to do, feed, than it is if it’s not. For those of us that – I wear jammers typically and I just put gels in actually small water bottles and just put them right there inside my suit. But those are – again, these are all things you have to make sure that you’re prepared to do. And you have to talk with your athletes about it too because if you swim 10,000 meters in the pool and you’re like, “Okay, I’m ready for a 5K or 10K or whatever” well yeah, because you have that water bottle right there the whole time on the side of the pool and you’ve been doing repeats and things like that. Well, being out in the open waters is a whole lot different. If you don’t have that escorted swim where you’re going to be able to have somebody hand you stuff, that’s going to be a problem.

Exit and finish, for us in the coastal parts of the world where you have surf, those exits and finishes sometimes it’s either on land or it’s a cross a banner or a cross an imaginary line where there’re judges or sometimes, and especially in the World Cup and stuff like that, it’s a board that they actually have to touch with their hand. So, knowing exactly how you’re going to finish is going to be important as well.

Knowing your competition, for those of you that have done open water swims or you’ve coached open water swims, have been around them a lot, you typically know who the players are. So, if you know who the competition is that provides a huge advantage. It’s like, “Oh, I love that person because I like to draft off him, but he swim like crap in terms of navigating.” So, maybe you want to just kind of pick and choose where you want to be and who you want to be around.

Know yourself. You want to make sure that you know your own limitations. If you’re not the fastest swimmer on the planet or if you’re not the straightest swimmer on the planet, you need to make sure that you’re compensating for that by making sure that you’re doing everything on race day to make sure that you accommodate yourself.

And staying out of trouble, again don’t impede other swimmers that’s the biggest thing. Staying out of trouble also in terms of if you know that it’s too cold for you, too hot for you, too something else for you, don’t go. If you’re a coach and you know that it’s too cold, too hot, too whatever, too rough, there are certain swimmers that it’s like, “Hey, you know, I’m okay in six-foot-surf but, you know, when it’s head high and beyond I don’t want to be there.” Because, and it’s again, the freak-out factor because that jacks your heart rate, causes exhaustion as well. So, stay out of trouble.

Knowing before you go, and this is an easy thing that I do with a lot of our athletes, and it just spells out HEALTH, it’s an acronym. The health and the fitness of the athletes determine whether or not you’re not going to be able to say, “Okay. Yeah, you should do that 5K swim.” Well, we all have these little Walter Mitty moments where it’s like, “Okay. I just swam my first 100 yards and all of a sudden I’m ready to swim the 5K.” It’s the same way when you swim a five – or you run a 5K and it’s like, “Okay. I’m ready to do a marathon now.” No, you’re really not. So, you have to know yourself and your athletes in those terms of health and fitness.

The environment and water quality, one of the interesting things that we have in Florida too, and I don’t want to talk about Florida the whole time, but we have – in lakes we have a brain eating amoeba, I mean really. Think about it for just a minute. Actually I’m convinced that most of my students in calculus – and probably in Canada this is some [Inaudible] [00:44:11] because I’m speaking fine English. But knowing the water quality in terms of whether or not there’s like fecal matter and stuff like that, because we’re just looking at that video, the guy pee in the pool, but, you know, hey, whales poop in there and so do fish and everything else, also birds on the shore and stuff like that, whether or not it’s rain and there’s a lot of run off, especially from agricultural areas where there are pesticides and everything else. You have to understand what the water quality is all about.

The attitude of the athlete and this is why I’m talking about the freak-out factor. They could be the greatest pool swimmer in the planet, they could swim forever, and then all of a sudden you put them in the open water and they lose it. So, you need to make sure that they understand the freak-out factor. The first time you put your hand to a jelly fish or you stroke your finger along a fish that may cause you to freak out just a little bit. The first time you see or hear of anything unusual in the water that you don’t see in the pool, that maybe part of the freak-out factor.

Limitations and liability, as a coach and as a swimmer, it’s really important for you to understand that not every race director does everything that they’re supposed to do in order to keep you safe. So, you need to know your own limitations in terms of we’re going to have this race regardless of whether or not there’s a hurricane. If that’s not okay for you, just know your limitations and also know there’s some liability there. If they don’t have enough kayakers, if they don’t have enough safeties, if they don’t have enough buoys or whatever, don’t go. It’s really just that simple.

Temperature and we talked about this earlier too, too hot, too cold. Everybody has their tolerance at a different level. But that too hot, too cold thing is going to be different for everybody but it’s definitely a safety and environmental thing.

Hazards, real easy for us where we have nice, soft, sandy bottoms in Florida. Hawaii, not so much. You’ve got a volcanic rock and volcanic glass there, it’s like let’s talk about the hazards that would be out there. Any submerged obstacles, anything like that; you want to make sure that you’re aware of where they are and what they are. And again, if there’s a question, just don’t go, it’s just not worth it. So, spells out HEALTH, it’s pretty easy to remember.

Good things and this is another thing that I’ve picked up. Videos are the greatest thing for not just critiquing stroke and helping athletes improve, but also a great thing for safety. If you’ve got a video of the race, and one of the things I used to do too is I coach a number of people that are I-want-to-be-an-Iron-Man kind of people, and they come from different backgrounds like cycling or running, or something like that. And like, “Teach me how to swim so I can do an Iron Man” so they can get their little Iron Man tattoo and whatever. But – you guys know who I’m talking about, because you all do it’s just a matter of where it is. At any rate, so I said, “Okay. Well, if you want to do an Iron Man the first thing you ought to do is you have to go do the 5K swim or the 2.4 mile swim up in Saint Augustine or whatever.” And I had this nice little waterproof camera that was really cheap, and I brought it with me and I took – and we’ll call her Mica because that’s her name, and she was swimming the 5K and they mis-measured the course, and it wasn’t 3.1 miles, it was more like 3.6 miles. And we’re about two hours into the swim at this point. I’d swim along and I’d stop and I’d talk to the kayak guy for a little while. And I wait for her to swim up a little bit and I’d video her and say, “How are you doing?” And here’s is this nice, sweet, Christian lady that goes to church probably four times a week, and she told me to F off and she hated me and everything else and she was never going to speak to me again. And that’s one of things when we talk about both the freak out factors and other things, but it also – when I played that back to her she didn’t even remember saying that. It was really funny.

Rules, again, I said the biggest infraction is impedance of another swimmer. There are certain things that are legal and certain things that aren’t legal, you know, if it’s innocent contact, that’s one thing. There are a couple of other things, and we used to do this in water polo all the time because that’s what I used to play in college. We’d grab people and pull them back, you know, you just – people with long fingernails also sucks because you’d come up raked up and the things like that. But intentionally pushing somebody off course one way or another, bad, bad idea. Whether it’s intentional or not intentional, the result of the action is what’s going to incur the foul. For open water swimming, just pure open water swimming, not triathlons, there’s a whistle for a warning, there’s a yellow card and a red card just similar to soccer. The yellow card is definitely a warning, a red card is an ejection, and you’re going to be DQ-Ed. It actually happened, there was one girl that held on to the feeding stick too long, and apparently she got DQ-Ed up in Long Beach. Can you imagine training for your, “Okay? I want to make it to the National Team. I trained this way ror 16 years or whatever” and then getting DQ-Ed because of something like that.

One of the most important things is – and if you’re going to an event that doesn’t have a pre-race briefing, don’t race there because it’s bad. Okay. They obviously have not done their homework in terms of making sure that they are taking care of their athlete’s safety. Going to the pre-race briefing is not optional. You have do that. It’s a great idea not just for safety purposes but because you have to know all those little things like environmental conditions, hazards, any of those other things. It’s critically important also to know which side of the buoy you’re riding on and everything like that. If you have a great race and you went around the buoy the wrong way and you get DQ-Ed, wow, it’s sucks to win that race and then just be DQ-Ed on a technicality like that. So, pre-race briefing, definitely a must.

Feeding, knowing where, when to feed, where the feeding stations are if there are feeding stations. Sometimes there’s a circuit like there’s a loop, you’ve got to go this same triangle three times and you’ve got to come up and run across the beach and then get back in the water over here. Those are good opportunities where they do feedings and stuff like that.

And also suits, I can’t talked about suits anymore, I’m sorry. After 2009 it’s just one of those things. Make sure that your suit is legal. It’s [Inaudible] [00:50:34] no buckles and no snaps, no this, that and the other thing kinds of things. But those are all things you can find on the FINA website.

If you’re going to organize an event you need to make sure that you’re aware of where – whether or not your venue is appropriate, the time of year. You need to make sure you have an appropriate amount of officials and marketing. And I’m going to give you some resources here in just a little bit in terms of websites to go to. Marketing is a great thing to do for – this is a – to be honest with you, our business of coaching swimming, open water swims are real revenue generators because typically you don’t have to pay for the facility. And the other thing is as long as you take care of all the safety and officials and everything else, and if you charge X amount of dollars, whatever it is, your costs are very low and your revenue is very high. One of the things I do recommend is you have some sort of like we do – like with triathlon they have the transponders that go around the ankle or the wrist or whatever. Those are all very – first of all, takes care of that safety issue, number of transponders in, number of transponders that come across the finish or whatever, easy to do. The other thing that happens too is having the appropriate amount of official and safeties in there, really, really important.

The time of the year is also going to be important. Take a look at the rest of the calendar, if there’s like US something National, something going on, that’s probably not a good day to have an open water swim, or maybe it is, you’ll never know.

So, these additional resources, these are the ones I’m talking about. One of the things that I like the most is and that’s ran by Steve Munatones and friends. And he is probably the foremost expert in open water swimming on the planet this point. So, there’s a free newsletter you can get from them just simply by signing up., USA swimming also has open water section, and of course, the rule section, there’s an entire section of our rule book that deals with just open water swimming and long distance swimming. So, I want to make sure – I’ll leave those up there for a minute because I don’t have handouts for everybody but if you want to write that stuff down, that would be great.

So, are there any questions? I feel like I’ve just kind of run through this as quickly as possible, but I just realized that it’s been an hour. So, if there’s anything anyone wants to add, I mean we’ve got some experts in the group here. Yeah.

Audience: [Inaudible] [00:53:10]

Scott Bay: You know the funny thing is – and then Mike, you want to – go ahead. Do you want to – did you have something way out there?

Audience: [Inaudible] [00:53:50]

Scott Bay: Well, one of the things that we do too, and I actually – especially with our newer tri-athletes or less experienced tri-athletes, is we practice, actually, transitioning from freestyle to breaststroke because breaststroke is a great stroke for sighting because you’re going to get to look forward all the time, right? Not if you’re doing a really competitive breaststroke but if you get a chance to, “Okay. I’m going to get to breathe every stroke. I’m going to get to see where I’m going.” So, we practice that transition from breaststroke, free style, breaststroke, free style. So, if that’s what your athletes are comfortable with, encourage it, just make sure that they’re doing it in such a way that it’s not, slowing down their momentum.

Audience: [Inaudible] [00:54:56]

Scott Bay: No, of course not. And you’re right, perfect example. It’s just like – and this is one of the reasons I say, well, you know, from my newbie tri-athletes or the ones that want to be. Hey, if you get kicked in the face or your goggles come off or something like that, you need to go ahead and roll over on your back to adjust you goggles and swim that little breaststroke to make sure you got your bearings and stuff like that, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. One of the things you do want to do is make sure that you practice that in the pool before they get to the venue, right? So, if that makes sense? So, anything else?

Audience: [Inaudible] [00:55:37]

Scott Bay: Oh, without a doubt.

Audience: [Inaudible] [00:55:49]

Scott Bay: Yeah.

Audience: [Inaudible] [00:55:59]

Scott Bay: And we do the same thing, we get people, it’s like, okay, get kick boards and stuff like that and then they’re going to splash and everything else and create some sort of chop. But the other thing is there are some facilities have those zero entry pools which is a great option to practice in and out of the water especially if it’s a beach start or a shore start. And then the other thing that we do too is in a shallow end, we practice dolphin diving by going over the top of lane lines which is another good skill as well. One of the things that’s really – and I’ve got to tell you because I’m not the fastest guy on the planet but sometimes I’m the luckiest or the smartest – probably the luckiest, not the smartest for sure. But because my knowledge of how waves break, and everything like that, I’m going to get 50 feet in front of you because I’m going to body surf my way in and it’s going to take me zero energy. If you’re from Iowa and you’ve never seen that, that’s a huge advantage for me. So, being able to do that and practice that stuff, and this is why if you’re going to go do something like that, a major race, where there’s surf, it’s always a great idea to be there a day ahead or a couple of days ahead to go ahead and practice those entries and exits. So, just like what you’re saying, but I mean it’s – for me, it’s that local knowledge and also it’s, “Okay. Do I tack and roll or do I try and arch my back and get out of this wave or am I going to skin my face on the bottom of the ocean?” And see, you’re laughing because you’ve probably done that before too. But you can tell some of the people when they come up and their whole face is just like road rash. And I’ve seen it before and it’s funny to me because for some reason, the other peoples’ pain is funny to me, but that’s a good example of knowing what the conditions are. And then also for those of us that are around the coast, rip currents are the best thing for getting out to a buoy if you know how to look for them and where to be. Man, I mean, I’m getting a push. It’s like, “Okay. What the hell is he doing way down there?” Its like, “Well, I’m first a the buoys so I don’t care” you know, and so…

Audience: [Inaudible] [00:58:23]

Scott Bay: Absolutely. And this is again, local knowledge, very important.

Audience: [Inaudible] [00:58:38]

Scott Bay: Right. The athlete is going to be highly dependent on the comfort level of the race director and everything like that. And I’m more cautious. If it’s my athlete that I’m coaching, I’m going to say, “Hey, you know what? I’ve donated race fees before.” It’s not a big deal especially if it’s a charity triathlon or something like that. It’s like, “Hey, you’re writing it off your taxes, but you’re not going to go out and have a miserable experience.” The last thing you want to do is two things. First of all, you don’t want to have a miserable experience, so when they get out of the water, where they already had an awful time and they just spent 10 miles on the bike recovering from what they just did, not good. Worst case scenario after that is something really, really bad happens, like accidents, injury, and death. So, death is really kind of bad for the sport so you want to try to avoid that. But yeah, it’s just like you have to know it’s highly dependent on what the athlete is capable of, and that’s the only thing that you’re going to know as a coach or as a friend of an athlete. So, yes sir.

Audience: [Inaudible] [00:59:54]

Scott Bay: Yeah, absolutely.

Audience: [Inaudible] [01:00:03]

Scott Bay: Yeah, I’m ready for the English Channel, no problem.

Audience: [Inaudible] [01:00:10]

Scott Bay: Yeah, and you’re exactly right, absolutely right. And I think that what you’re saying is you need to manage those expectations if that’s a good way to put it. You don’t want to be a dream squeezer, but at the same time, you want to make sure that you’re being realistic and honest with somebody.

Audience: [Inaudible] [01:00:37]

Scott Bay: Absolutely. And one of the worst things that happens to us as coaches, oh, they dug really deep, it’s like – you can dig really deep if you built that deep pit already, that’s not because they’re digging really deep because they have some magical ability. It’s not something that just shows up on race day. And just as you said, making sure those athletes are prepared to accomplish the test they set out to do is really the most important part, I think, for us as coaches. So, anything else?

Well thank you very much for coming. I appreciate you playing along with me here today. So, if there’s anything that I can do for you, I can be reached at or – I’m the coach of team Blu Frog and you can find us on the internet and stuff like that. So, thank you very much.


[Audio Ends]

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