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Open water swimming: Drafting etiquette

by ZwemZa on December 25th, 2017


Sometimes I begin a training session in a lane that is far too full for me to be able to successfully complete what I had planned. Whether you swim in a 25 m or 50 m pool, the lanes become like congested roads during the rush-hour, full of excited swimmers ready to overtake as soon as you slow down. When this happens there is only one plus point: drafting.

Swimming behind or alongside (but close to) another athlete helps you save 25% energy. You can swim faster and more efficiently, but it is not always as easy as it might seem.

Drafting, which certainly is not recommended when training in a pool, turns out to be a real blessing when competing in open-water races. Whether you like it or hate it, all swimmers have “taken advantage of it” at least once, but watch out: not everybody will be so willing to let you do it!

Trusting is good, but being wary is better

Drafting is extremely convenient and is certainly less tiring than swimming the whole course drawing solely on your own strength. But the person setting the pace just ahead may not always follow the quickest race route or be aware of the positions of the buoys out in open water. So do not just blindly trust other swimmers and always visualise your goals without ever losing sight of them.

Be discreet

Would you be happy in the knowledge that there is a swimmer behind you saving their strength by taking advantage of all your hard work? Drafting always goes on in open-water races, but do not take advantage of other swimmers’ indulgence, they might just get annoyed and deliberately break up your rhythm.

Watch out for kicks

Particularly at the beginning of a race, it will be hard to draft without sudden changes in pace, but be careful: if you swim to close “to the feet” of the athlete in front of you, they might get annoyed and give you the occasional kick to make you keep your distance!

And if it happens to be you setting the pace… be patient!

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