For beginners and experienced triathletes alike, swimming in open water can be a challenge in itself. But what makes open water swimming so special? What are the important differences and what do you need to be aware of?
You're swimming in the ocean or in a lake, the water is choppy and the waves are coming from one side, hitting you in the face and making it difficult to breathe. If you are not able to switch sides of breathing, it will be very difficult to keep a steady rhythm. So take your time and make sure that gradually breathing on both sides feels natural.
In addition to breathing technique, orientation plays an important role. When you swim in the pool, you don't really have to think about where you are. There is a lane with a line, the water is clear, you can see the bottom, the sides and the wall of the pool.
In open water it is completely different: There is no line, the water is dark, maybe wavy and you can't see the bottom. Therefore, it's important that you have reference points to help you find your way straight ahead without losing too much time. In competitions there are usually buoys, otherwise you need to look for landmarks on the shore (buildings, church tower, lighthouse, mountain top, etc.). To know where the landmarks are, lift your head and look ahead. The difficulty here is that you have to leave your optimal water position for every third / fifth move, and your kick has to be stronger so you don't lose too much speed. A technique you should definitely incorporate into your training.
The next important factor is the environment. Weather conditions (sun, wind, rain), smooth or wavy water, water temperature (cold/warm water) and type of water (crystal clear or dark) can all affect your training. Your body works more to stay warm, rough seas or strong winds make it difficult to see landmarks and you have to lift your head higher. In this case, try to use the swell to your advantage, proper breathing and looking at the shore can help you conserve your strength. Do not fight against the waves, but use them to your advantage.
Obviously, your performance from the pool won't translate directly to open water training. But don't worry. Experience shows that training makes perfect. If you have the opportunity to train in open water, just do it as often and regularly as possible. It is a perfect training and you will get used to it and keep a cool head in difficult situations.