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The sport of ocean swimming is not for everyone. It is particular to a certain type of person….one who eschews the comfort of a warm bed for full body immersion into into brisk, salty water at dawn. But there is nothing better than the feeling of emerging from the freezing cold water into the comparably warmer air after a swim. For this and many other reasons, ocean swimmers return again and again to the water, taking pride in their local waters and creating companionship in their shared love of this unique sport.
Open water swimming is accessible for people of all ages and here in San Diego, we are lucky to have some pretty great beaches for ocean swimming. If you are interested in getting into the sport, whether you are training for your first triathlon or just looking to try something new, there are a few things you need to know before you “jump in”. Assuming you are comfortable lap swimming for long distances and comfortable navigating ocean waves, all you need to start ocean swimming is the right gear, location, group and route.
The gear you need for ocean swimming is very minimal compared to other sports. For the most part - you’ll need a well-fitting swimsuit, swim cap and goggles. However, there are other essential items if you want to be more comfortable. A good wetsuit can help you stay warm and float better - click here to read our blog post to learn about the difference between surfing and swimming wetsuits. Also, be sure to wear waterproof sunscreen (such as zinc sticks) to protect your skin - as we all know, the reflection of the water can intensify the sun’s effects on your skin.
Over time, cold water can damage your hearing so many swimmers like to wear wax or custom-fitted earplugs to protect their ears. The rest of your gear is similar to what you’d need after surfing: a backpack, towel, sandals and warm clothes to change into after you get out of the water.
Ocean swimming is all about location, location, location. Just like surfing, ocean swimming is very dependent upon the conditions of the water. Not every beach is ideal for ocean swimming. Choose a beach that has lifeguard supervision, small surf and no rip currents. The most well known beaches for ocean swimming in San Diego are La Jolla Cove and across from the Cove, La Jolla Shores.
There is year-round lifeguard supervision, swimmers constantly in the water and several competitions held there every year. Be warned the surf at the Cove can get quite large and entry/exit can be tricky in the winter. Other San Diego beaches where ocean swimmers swim are Fletcher Cove in Solana Beach, Moonlight Beach in Encinitas and Tamarack Beach in Carlsbad.
One of the best aspects of ocean swimming is the people you meet. There is a bond that forms when people continuously show up to swim in the ocean year-round, with an eagerness to show newcomers the particulars of their local swimming spot. Besides the social aspect, it is basic ocean safety to never swim alone!
You have a few options for finding other swimmers:
Ask a friend who is an ocean swimmer to introduce you or bring you along. Look up open water swim clubs online like the La Jolla Cove Swim Club or Carlsbad Open Water Swimming Meetup group, or the practice times of triathlon clubs. Email them ahead of time or just show up at their swim times. You can also go to busy swimming beaches when you are ready to swim and join up with other swimmers.
Just like runners, open water swimmers have particular routes when swimming at their local beaches. When trying to determine which swimming group to join, ask other swimmers about the distance they are swimming and their route. Swimmers will create routes by swimming to different landmarks, rocks or buoys in the water, so don’t be surprised if they respond by saying “we are swimming to A street and back” or “we are swimming to the quarter mile and then the half mile buoy and back”.
Try to find a group that will be swimming for a period of time you’re comfortable with (don’t overdo it - start slow!), but you can always turn back if you get tired.
Go for it!
Now that you have the basics for beginning ocean swimming, we hope you’ll feel confident getting in the water and finding your swim group! Hansen’s proudly supports all ocean sports that celebrate our beautiful San Diego waters. Our knowledgeable staff is happy to help if you have any questions.