Will I be pulled under by that rip?
What if I get dumped by that wave and can’t breathe?
Why is there a dark shadow under me?
If you’re scared of breaking waves or feel nervous swimming in the ocean, you’re not alone. Fear of the unknown is normal and nearly every ocean swimmer gets anxious in the ocean at some point. In this article we offer some tried and tested methods for reducing ocean anxiety so you can discover the amazing environment that is our ocean.
- Discover Ocean Pools
To reduce ocean anxiety, there is no substitute for exposure. The more you visit the beach and get wet from head to toe, the more your ocean confidence will grow. Australia is blessed with over 100 spectacular ocean pools and these provide the perfect opportunity to be in the sea while being out of it! Once you become comfortable swimming in an ocean pool at low tide, try it at high tide when the waves start coming over the sides.
- Build Technique in a Swimming Pool
Being able to progress your body efficiently though the water is the key to enjoying ocean swimming. A good swimming coach will be able to observe your swimming technique and work with you to improve your stroke efficiency and power. This is best achieved in a swimming pool environment, away from the distractions of waves, where instructions can be easily heard. In a pool you can focus on technique and fitness.
- Identify and Rationalise What Scares You
Knowledge will be one of your most powerful weapons against ocean anxiety. By learning about what scares you, how unlikely it is to cause you harm, and how you can cope with it if it does occur, your anxiety will reduce. Here are a few of the most common fears:
- Waves – breaking waves can be hugely powerful and getting dumped can be frightening. Ocean swimmers know that the calmest place around a large wave is under it, preferably touching the sand beneath it. Diving deep under waves is a skill you can learn.
- Sharks – the overt sensationalising of the relatively few shark attacks that occur each year has led to this being the primary fear of almost all beginner ocean swimmers. However, swimmers are 50 times more likely to die in a car accident on the way to the beach than by a shark attack. Avoid swimming at dawn or dusk and if you do see a shark, remember that it’s unlikely to be interested in you and will swim away.
- Seaweed – the texture of seaweed, whether it’s spiky or slimy, is what eeks some people. However there has never been a reported death from seaweed and there are no poisonous or toxic seaweeds anywhere in the world. In fact, people eat it and make toothpaste from it, so make seaweed your friend.
- Rips – rips are both a hazard and a tool of ocean swimmers. They are a strong, localised body of water moving away from the shore, so can be an easy way to move beyond the break to deeper water. It’s important however, to understand what to do if you’re unexpectedly caught in a rip. You should: float on your back to conserve energy; raise your hand to signal for help; swim parallel to the beach; and reassess what’s working and try different strategies. Ocean swim coaches can help you become comfortable with rips and use them to your advantage.
- Challenge Your Self-Talk
Anxiety can make you overestimate the danger in a situation and underestimate your ability to cope with it. When you feel anxious, take slow, methodical breaths, and visualise yourself mastering your fear. Don’t be drawn towards the worst-case scenario. Remember your training and the times you have swum before that have been successful and enjoyable.
- Swim with Others
Observing how others deal with a situation that makes you feel anxious can help you conquer your fears. Alternately, being around people who share your fears provides comfort that you are not alone and enables you to support each other. Together, as a group, you can embrace your anxieties and challenge yourself to go further. Getting coffee and socialising after a swim is a great way to crystallise the accomplishments made and enjoy the greater confidence each session brings.
About Can Too Foundation
Can Too Foundation has taught over 5,000 people, just like you, to ocean swim since 2005. For many people, it’s life changing. All sessions are led by professional coaches and beach sessions are staffed with water safety from local surf clubs.
Can Too offers 4x swim programs a year:
- Sydney Learn to Ocean Swim from November to February
- Autumn swim program from February to April
- Balmoral 5km swim from February to April in Sydney
- Cooly Classic Ocean Swim from February to April in Queensland.
If you’d like to learn to ocean swim in a safe, supportive environment with Can Too please find out more. If you're concerned about your ability, contact us. We'd love to help you set a suitable goal.