Swimming is an ideal non-weight bearing exercise. And more and more people are enjoying taking this skill to the open water - lakes, rivers and the ocean.

There are also open water swim events in most coastal towns and cities, with the focus on the State Ocean Swim Series and this weekend the State Epic Swim in Taupo.

The Epic Swim comprises a range of recreational swims from 100m for kids to 10km for elite and strong participant swimmers. It is highlighted by the State New Zealand Open Water Championships which doubles as the official Oceania Championship.

New Zealand Open Water Champion Kane Radford, who last year won the State Harbour Crossing in Auckland, has returned from his training base in Perth to compete in the New Zealand Open Water Championships. He gave some tips for weekend warriors on how to prepare and enjoy swimming in the open water.

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As a beginner what are the major differences to be aware of in open water as opposed to swimming in the pool?

The first thing is that with open water there are no lane ropes and there's no black line on the bottom to follow to keep in a straight line. In open water sighting is crucial to know where you are going and to swim in the most direct course.

If you are going to venture out into the open water for the first time, should you wear a wetsuit?

Definitely. For the first few times there's an advantage in using a wetsuit. It helps with buoyancy and makes you feel a little more comfortable. It is the way to start and then progress to not wearing one.

In the pool swimmers can push off the wall and stop for a rest. What do they do if they are tired out in the open water?

The first time the best way is to swim in quite shallow water - so you can touch the bottom but not too shallow that your hands touch the bottom. Once you get comfortable enough and go out deeper, the easiest thing for a rest is to float on the back, do a starfish on your back or do a gentle kick until you get some energy back to continue.

If swimmers are taking on the sea and not a lake, how do they best get through the surf?

Make sure you never turn your back to the sea. Always have your eyes out to know what is coming. Turn your back and you might get a big wave that sends you tumbling. The best way to get through the surf is to duck under the wave, and push off the bottom with your legs to the other side of the wave. Make your way out slowly - don't rush, take your time and stay relaxed.

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When you are swimming in open water how do you best avoid taking in mouthfuls of sea water when you are hit by waves?

The best way is to always breathe to the side opposite the direction of the waves. If it is really wavy and you are having trouble, rotate your head a little more to get it fully out of the water. And don't panic if you swallow a bit of salt water every now and again. Just relax and focus on the next breath, and to get your head further out of the water.

To avoid this, while you swim in the pool, do you recommend learning how to breathe bilaterally?

Learning to breathe both sides is crucial when it comes to swimming in the sea. There's no point to breathing one side only and the waves come in from that side.

What is the best way to make sure you are swimming in the right direction?

Pick a point you want to swim to before entering the water. Then every 10 strokes or so when you are going to breathe, lift your head up at the start of the stroke and check that point is in a straight line. You can adjust your line if you need to at that point.

For details: www.swimmingnz.org.nz

State Epic Swim


When: Today and tomorrow
Where: Lake Taupo
What: The event doubles as the New Zealand Open Water Championships and the official Oceania Championship

Event options:
Today:

• Mini Epic 100m (5-10 year olds)
• Minor Epic 500m (9-16 year olds)
• Mid Epic 1km (Open and Age Groups)
• Epic 2.5km (Open and Age Groups)
• Epic 5km (Open and Age Groups)
• Epic 10km (Open and Age Groups the NZ Open Water Championship)

Tomorrow:

• Masters 2.5km Classic (Age Groups 25 years +)
• NZ 5km Open Water Championship