The glorious weather continued for the Can Too Beach Session on Saturday. After the Christmas break I think it was a bit of a shock to the system for anyone who hadn’t gotten in much swimming as it was a leap straight back into training! The warm-up itself was a reasonably long swim around our water-safety helper out on a board, and each circuit was longer than the last as we really keep building endurance.

We finished up getting a bit of body-surfing practice in. The surf was small, but with half-decent technique you could catch a little shore-breaker into the shore.

I’m no expert on these things, particularly compared to coach “big-wave” Dave or fellow 4SEASons swimmer David S (perhaps there’s something in the name), but on a good day I can catch a wave and there are a few tips I’ve learned over the years I thought I’d share.

  1. Kick! One of the key things for catching a wave in the first place is that you want to be going pretty close to the same speed as the wave. If you’re catching the wave from a standing start you can do this by springing forward and throwing yourself onto the wave. If it’s deeper, you need to get that speed up with a surge, and since you want to be getting into the right body position, that mostly means you need to kick like crazy! Also, don’t stop once you’re on the wave!
  2. Body position is really important. General rule is you want to be really streamlined, tuck your head down and remember point 1! As with any rule, though, there are exceptions. If you find yourself on the front of a big wave that’s lifting your legs up behind you and threatening to send you tumbling, you can control your speed by lifting your head up and forward.
  3. Keep swimming. Once that wave starts petering out it’s tempting to stop swimming and catch your breathe. Instead, you can resume your stroke, and breathe to the side. You can get a surprising amount more ground out of the wave this way, and it may be enough to jump you forward a place or two in a race environment.
  4. Timing and breathing. Getting the timing right for when to jump onto a wave or when to get into the right body position from a swim is something that takes a bit of practice. What does help, however, is being able to keep an eye on the wave as it’s coming, watching where it’s breaking and how fast it’s moving. When swimming you can keep an eye on waves behind you by peeking under your arm behind you as you breathe. I often find it useful to switch to breathing every second stroke in this case…it allows you to gauge the wave more clearly, and it gets more oxygen into your system in preparation for having to go a few seconds without lifting your head while you’re on the wave. Remember to exhale as you’re surfing, as excess CO2 in your system is never your friend.
  5. Get a feel for it. Conditions can vary wildly, but as a general rule, as a big wave builds behind you, you can feel the water in front of it tugging back . The closer the wave, the harder the tug. If you get used to paying attention to this it’s anther cue for how to time your wave.
  6. Prepare to sacrifice. The best days for body-surfing are by definition the rougher days out there. It’s more likely that you will lose caps and/or goggles. You can minimise the risk by wearing older kit you don’t mind losing so much, by pulling your goggles down around your neck as you hit the wave zone or tying them onto the zipper cord of your wetsuit (if you’re wearing one…winter only!). On occasion, if the waves are powerful enough that I know I’ll get a ride in regardless I’ve been known to set my position with one arm out in front for the streamline, and the other hand up on my head securing cap and goggles, but with elbow tucked in and chin right down. It’s not pretty, but it works in certain circumstances!
  7. Extra buoyancy. I generally prefer to swim without a wetsuit under most conditions, but if there’s really big surf I will do the wetsuit dance to get into it as I know how much easier that extra bit of buoyancy makes it to catch and stay on a big wave.

So that’s my take on it…if you have anything to add (or argue!) feel free to weigh in below in the comments!

Some photos from the day….

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