Editor’s note: Once again, this portion of Eric’s thesis on Ocean Survival Swimming is published as is. For Parts 1 and 2, please click on the links in the right hand margin.

Diving in for an ocean swim. Pictured: Eric Soares

Diving in for an ocean swim. Pictured: Eric Soares

Once the four prerequisites to ocean swimming have been fulfilled, ocean training should begin. This training should not be undertaken alone. The ideal training situation for open ocean swimming occurs when a competent instructor (who knows rescue techniques and first aid) is present, along with a support boat, on a safe beach. Swimmers should wear wetsuits (and later don the full paddling regalia).

There are three steps to ocean swimming training. The first step is STUDYING THE WAVES. The second step is BODY SURFING. The final step is OPEN OCEAN SWIMMING. These three activities should be done in succession each time you train. They will give you the competence needed to handle ocean survival situations.

Study the waves before you swim. Pictured: TR John Lull

Study the waves before you swim. Pictured: TR John Lull

STUDYING THE WAVES. This step should be easy, since studying sea conditions is a normal activity that occurs before a kayaking excursion. This is a necessary step because it will help swimmers familiarize themselves with the conditions, and alert them to hazards and promising swimming routes. First, from a high vantage point, observe the ocean panorama. Notice the weather, the wind, the swell patterns. Look at the waves. Are they holding their crest due to an offshore breeze, or are they gnarly due to an onshore wind? Are the waves coming in fast and furious, or slow and mushy? Are the waves generally big (breaking in water over your head), or are most sets rather small (no surfers around)? Are the waves soft and easy breaking, or thick and hard breaking? Are the waves peeling to the left and/or right (ideal surf), or are they closing out (crashing everywhere at once)? Are the waves breaking on rocks, coral, or sand? Are the waves passing through kelp, driftwood, sandbars, jellyfish? Is the shoreline gradual or steep? These are questions you should ask and answer about waves.

You should also consider the tide. Is the tide flooding or ebbing? High tide sometimes causes normally safe areas near cliffs to be unsafe due to waves rebounding off rocks. Some reefs are unsafe at low tide due to exposed rocks and kelp. Incoming tides tend to increase the volume of water which make waves thicker and easier to surf. But conditions vary, depending on the area.

Local beach currents should be studied. Longshore currents flow parallel to the beach and are caused by waves angling in to the shore. A strong longshore current could cause you to drift up or down the beach and into uncharted waters. When two opposing currents meet, as between two sandbars, a strong current out to sea occurs. This is called the rip current, and can be used as a paddling channel to get you through the surf line with little effort. Locate rip currents on the beach.

The purpose behind studying waves, tides, and currents is to help you determine if the water is beyond your skill level. By inspecting the beach, you can plot where you can safely train, and can envision yourself frolicking in the waves. Body surfing is your next activity.

Mavericks, 2010. It would be safe to say that body surfing here would probably be a bad idea.

Mavericks, 2010. It would be safe to say that body surfing here would probably be a bad idea.

BODY SURFING. If you did nothing else in your life except body surf, you would be a happy person indeed. The sport is exhilarating and helps you develop respect for the ocean’s power. Here is how body surfing is done. Follow this progression:

  • with partners and/or an instructor, wade through the surf and practice diving under waves
  • face the shore in waist deep water, wait for a breaking wave to come by, dive forward as the wave hits you and plane across the surface of the wave on your stomach. Stay on the wave as long as possible. Repeat endlessly until you feel confident.
  • after mastering body surfing in waist deep water, swim with your instructor to the breakers a few hundred meters offshore. Dive under big, foamy breakers. Position yourself to be in the path of waves just beginning to break. Stay away from board and kayak surfers. As a big, cresting wave approaches, sprint toward the shore using the crawl stroke. As the breaking wave overtakes you, let yourself plan left or fight on the wave, depending upon which way it is breaking. Surf on the wave as long as possible. If the wave bursts on top of you, go limp, roll into a ball, hold your breath, and go with the flow. Do not open your eyes underwater, as the sand and salt will sear them. After the wave passes, turn out to sea and repeat the process until the sun goes down

That is the essence of body surfing. If you can body surf in big waves, you can do anything. Once you become proficient in body surfing, you will never fear kayak takeoffs and landings ever again. In fact, after body surfing for awhile, you will probably be inclined to surf your kayak in the same water you just swam in. The worst that could happen is that you get wet.

OPEN OCEAN SWIMMING. After completing body surfing, it will be time to execute swimming skills in the open ocean. With your instructor, gear, buddies, and a support boat, swim through the surfline. After swimming past the breakers, inflate your buoyancy compensator and rest for awhile. Then swim in a diamond pattern out to sea. Plan to swim against the current, wind, and swells right off, while you have the most energy. Swim back in to shore last, as this is usually easiest. Plan the swim to be about a mile in length. Each vector of the diamond should cover about a quarter of a mile.

On the first two trajectories of the diamond, you will swim against the current and the swells as you make your way out to sea. The easiest strokes to use are side stroke and breast stroke, although caution must be taken not to gag on incoming water while swimming breast stroke. The crawl will be the fastest stroke to use in this situation, and this is the time to use it – when you are fresh. On the third leg of the diamond, you will be swimming parallel to the swells. Side stroke is the best stroke to use here. Be sure you swim on the side that is facing away from the incoming swells.

On the fourth side of the diamond, the swells will push you along. Breast stroke is the best stroke to use in this situation. You should surf a bit if the opportunity presents itself. Should you tire during the open ocean swim, stop, inflate your buoyancy compensator, and rest. East some food, and drink liquid. Pull out your compass, take a few bearings, and check your signal gear. Deflate the buoyancy compensator. Then continue. After completing the diamond, body surf in to shore.

Body surf into shore. Pictured: TR Eric Soares

Body surf into shore. Pictured: TR Eric Soares

Open ocean swimming is not something you need to practice every day. Once you can do it comfortably, you have it in the bag. It would be useful to swim in the open ocean in large swells, to boost your confidence and prepare you for survival swimming situations in the ocean.

We hope you have enjoyed this post on Ocean Swimming Training. Next up in this series will be Survival Swimming Tactics. We’d love to hear your feedback on this topic. Have you ever had to swim for your life?

Like this post? Then please help us out and share it on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere. And don't miss any Tsunami Rangers posts: subscribe by e-mail or subscribe by RSS. And you can leave a comment below...

{ 6 comments… click here to read or add }

Snake Bite Medicine – A Sea Kayaker’s Cure-all

by Nancy Soares on December 15, 2014

by Tsunami Ranger Commander “Tortuga” Deb Volturno

Editor’s note: ‘Tis the Season, and once again we address the engrossing subject of What to Drink When Kayaking!

Deb and her snakebite

Commander Tortuga and her snakebite medicine

A celebratory toasting tradition is rooted in river kayaking for me, and has richly endured over the years.  While toasting and celebrating the safe completion of a river run, I also employed “snakebite medicine” for what became the “bad water cure” following raucous river runs in suspect waters.  Myth or not, with the “medicine”, I never again suffered the intestinal scourge after running a river!

Deb's super flask - light, handy, and full

Deb’s super flask – light, handy, and full

In good time, imbibing “snakebite medicine” evolved to the lofty metaphysical level of a celebratory ritual toast to the Sea Gods and Goddesses punctuating any day on the water, the flask of fine elixir raised in gratitude for the generosity of the Sea Deities. We survived yet another sea adventure, being given the gift to indulge and dance in the wild sea on a new day.

Yay! We survived! Jim, Scott, and Steve celebrate the end of another amazing day on the sea.

Yay! We survived! Jim, Scott, and Steve celebrate the end of another amazing day on the sea.

The term “snakebite medicine” has withstood the test of time, because it continues to cure what ails you.  These days it is most often the stiff and sore muscles after a long day kayaking at sea that benefit from a dose!  Plus tippling the tonic seems to magically put a grin of satisfaction on your face – even, I can say, in the throes of the Weather Gods’ wrath!

TR Dave Whalen manages to suck down some snakebite despite his faceguard

TR Dave Whalen manages to suck down some snakebite despite his faceguard

Sometimes in my travels I would discover a local Sea Deity enshrined at a launch site, as in Mexico where a shrine of Guadalupe is commonly found on random beaches.  In that case the ritual of a resolute toast is extended to venerate the enshrined deity.  A gift of a fine libation is left in a vessel (usually a bi-valve shell) at the shrine, along with a special complement treat, like cookies or dark chocolate.  This ritual is also a humble request for safe passage in their home seas.

Deb at Tokomaru Bay, NZ, saluting the sea

Deb at Tokomaru Bay, NZ, saluting the sea

By the way, snakebite medicine is not any random generic alcohol.  Of course it must be a fine elixir worthy of honoring life and adventure!  Most preferred by me is a fine sipping tequila!  Choices are unlimited though, and have included fine sipping whiskey, scotch, rum, brandy, calvados, grappa, and port.  Weather can be helpful in determining the best choice of spirits.  Cold arctic circle temperatures in Norway beg for something very different from a steamy Mediterranean day at sea.

Capt. Kakuk on retreat - warming the belly with 'bite

Capt. Kakuk on retreat – warming the belly with ‘bite

One of the most memorable of celebratory elixirs on our Tsunami retreats was “Chōrni Doktor”, a fine chewable port that escaped from Russia with Jim and Misha.  True to form, Tsunami Rangers reveled in that potion, and saluted the Sea Deities deep into the clear starlit night, on a secret beach somewhere along the shores of the Great Sea.

What’s your favorite snakebite? Do share! For more on our Tsunami libations, click on the link and check it out.







Like this post? Then please help us out and share it on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere. And don't miss any Tsunami Rangers posts: subscribe by e-mail or subscribe by RSS. And you can leave a comment below...

{ 8 comments… click here to read or add }

Paddle California 2014

November 24, 2014

Shareby Barbara Kossy Editor’s note: Barbara Kossy is an artist and environmental activist. She lives in Moss Beach, California with her husband John Dixon, Tsunami Ranger and surfski paddler. She is a former president of Bay Area Sea Kayakers and has been organizing kayaking trips in Italy since 1996. See www.barbarakossy.com for current trips. Thanks to […]

11 comments Read the Full Article

Ocean Survival Swimming – Part 2

November 3, 2014

ShareEditor’s note: After a short break to talk about the TR retreat and the newest Ranger, we return to the subject of Ocean Survival Swimming. This essay by Eric Soares is published as is. It’s opinionated, funny, and informative. Enjoy. STAY WITH THE BOAT An old mariner’s maxim. This rule is true in most boat […]

8 comments Read the Full Article

Tsunami Ranger Retreat 2014: A New Ranger!

October 12, 2014

ShareCaptain Kuk: When Eric and I first came up with the idea of a kayaking team in 1984 we wanted to have a system for rating the skills of the paddlers that we planned on inviting to join us. Eric proposed that we use naval ranking. Having been in the U.S. Navy he was familiar […]

5 comments Read the Full Article

Ocean Survival Swimming – A Sea Kayaker’s Guide to Staying Alive in the Water

September 22, 2014

ShareEditor’s Note: One from the archives: Eric Soares wrote this essay illustrating the Tsunami Rangers’ approach to sea kayaking emphasizing ocean swimming as a key skill for sea kayakers. We’ll publish his thesis in five parts. This first part is the outline for Ocean Survival Swimming. Note that Eric refers to buoyancy compensators instead of […]

10 comments Read the Full Article

California’s Lost Coast – Extreme Hiking in Southern Humboldt County

September 1, 2014

ShareIn June, my son Nick and I hiked the Lost Coast of Northern California. It’s an extreme hike – there’s no trail for much of the way – and it took us four days and three nights. We started at Shelter Cove and hiked north to the mouth of the Mattole River. Most people start […]

2 comments Read the Full Article

Tsunami Ranger Sea Cave Terms

August 11, 2014

ShareEditor’s note: Thanks to Michael Powers, Eric Soares, and Jim Kakuk for these fabulous photos. One of the cool things about the Tsunami Rangers is the lexicon they invented to describe the marine environment. Some of these terms have probably become mainstream, but just for fun I thought I’d reproduce the Tsunami Ranger Sea Cave […]

6 comments Read the Full Article

Up a Hot Creek With a Paddle – Sea Kayaking in the Oregon Desert

July 21, 2014

ShareOn a cloudy day in April we headed east. Clear sailing until five hours out and a pronghorn played chicken with the truck so I had to cross into the opposite lane and take my foot off the gas so it could pass on the right and run in front of the truck at 60 […]

3 comments Read the Full Article

Reef Madness 2014 – Sea Kayaking Mayhem Strikes Again!

June 30, 2014

Shareby Ed Anderson Editor’s note: Thanks so much for this post to Ed Anderson who always does such an amazing job as Master of Ceremonies and Paddler Extraordinaire at Reef Madness. And thanks too to Lars Howlett and Jim Kakuk for all the great photos. Paddle. Party. Piracy. That’s a perfect day! Sunday June 8th […]

3 comments Read the Full Article