“I am a leaf on a stream”, or how to swim in the ocean

Waves were BIG mothers today. Here, in brief, is how to swim in the ocean:

1) Watch it. Really. Just stand on the beach and watch it. The ocean moves in cycles, sometimes 10, 20, or 30 minute patterns. Watch it for at least five minutes to know what the wave pattern is like so when you’re charging the surf you know if there’s a small double followed by a monster, or a long lull between big bastards. Big waves will create trenches in the sand which can cause tripping, or a twisted ankle. Therefore watch the water and observe the pattern, it will inform your entry.

2) Drag your feet as you walk towards the surf. Stingrays don’t like being stepped on and if you drag y =our feet you can kick aside any beasties waiting at the sand bottom. Turn sideways as waves come in under the hips.

3) As you’re past waist-high water, watch out for incoming waves. Your goal is to dive UNDER the wave as it comes towards you, BEFORE it breaks. Dive for the ocean floor and hold your breath as the wave passes over you. Your ankles will tell you when the wave has passed and it’s OK to surface. Stay down longer than you think, even a count of five seconds is good. When you come up be prepared for another wave, or if it’s calm hit your stroke.

4) Sight your target and check it at least every three breaths. Choose an immobile target (not the sun) far enough in the distance (a buoy is good) to see steadily, and on your return choose a distinct building or structure you can see over the waves. Don’t use trees (they look the same) or lifeguard towers (they also look the same).

5) Never turn your back on the ocean. As you come back to shore monitor your distance and recall what you observed on the beach. If you know there is cross-current or early breaks, head check behind you as you swim in to shore to make sure you don’t get picked up and thrown around in the washing machine by a big wave. You can ride waves back in to land, or if you’re not expecting it you can drown. NEVER TURN YOUR BACK ON THE OCEAN.

6) Bring your shoes and run after. (Optional.)

Preview: Friday’s long article is going to be about Herbalife, and to some extent, multi-level marketing. The endurance world is an open market for these kinds of predatory schemes and all athletes should beware.

Notes: 3 ocean laps in 37 minutes, a new record. Ran for 45 minutes after. Stopped when the Venice stench made me nauseated.


2 responses to ““I am a leaf on a stream”, or how to swim in the ocean

  1. I look forward to your Herbalife exposé!

  2. I grew up swimming in the (Atlantic) ocean. When I was a teenager, I could swim for between two and four hours in the part of the Atlantic I knew well.

    One important thing about that area, which I don’t know if it applies to the beaches near LA, is that often very strong currents ran parallel to the shoreline. People would tire out and need Lifeguard rescue trying to get back to a familiar part of the beach by swimming against these currents while trying to cross them.

    If they just swam a diagonal so that they were headed shoreward but the current was pushing them East or West as it wanted to, they’d be fine. We did this all the time, and sometimes it meant a walk of a mile or two back to where you left your shoes, but that sure beats drowning.

    The moral of the story is that if you get yourself caught in current, don’t panic. Stay afloat. If it’s a cross-current, swim the diagonal and you’ll still get to shore.

    If it’s a rip (a strong outbound current), stay afloat and signal a lifeguard. You might get out of it yourself, because eventually it’ll end (hopefully it won’t feed into an undertow), but even if you (correctly) don’t fight it and just stay up, you may be too exhausted to get back in without assistance.

    If you are pulled outwards and there is no lifeguard or buddy to help (a) shame on you for swimming with no lifeguard or buddy around, (b) dead float if the waves permit (otherwise, calmly and slowly tread water) in order to rest, and then swim laterally away from the rip area before trying to return.

    In my home town, there were flags that indicated surf conditions. I assume LA has those too. If the flags indicate unsafe surf, they mean it. As a stupid teenager many of us ignored the flag warnings (“Ah, it doesn’t look like a no flag (worst conditions) day to me.”) at least once or twice. I had a couple really wild rides along the shoreline in unsafe surf (one resulting in about a five mile walk back to where I started), and I realize now that I just barely lived to tell about it. Fortunately, that five miler was harrowing enough that I never tried a stupid stunt like ignoring the flags ever again.

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