Weatherproof your swimming: chop and wind

Choppy waters and head-on wind aren't normally swimmers' favourite conditions, but how can you be best prepared for them?

John Towner

Part of the wonder, and the challenge, of swimming in the wild is encountering the changing faces of the weather and knowing how to deal with its different moods. When the water is whipped into crests that break against your head and the wind rips at your cheekbones, it can feel exhilarating – if you know how to deal with it. Whether facing chop and wind in open sea, in lakes, or in swims such as the OSS Dart 10K and the Hurly Burly , knowing how to swim as efficiently as possible in these conditions is vital. Dan Bullock, from Swim for Tri, shares his technique tips.


Chop is the name given to the cresting waves created by local wind (rather than waves created by tides). They can rise up quickly and drop away equally fast, as the wind changes. Swimming against chop can fill your mouth with water and waves break repeatedly against your head.

All variations of chop or wind will affect your swimming, either positively or negatively. How best to deal with chop?

  • Lengthen your stroke if currents are with you
  • Speed up your stroke rate if the tides are against you
  • Consider sheltering to the left or right of another swimmer if a side current is fatiguing you.
  • Practice breathing to both sides when training, not necessarily bilaterally but swimming a length breathing to one side then a length to the other. On the day of your swim, recognise which side is sheltered and favour breathing to this side.
  • You might need to rotate a few degrees higher to clear the rolling conditions.

Going out in different weathers and learning to read and adapt to conditions will help you make the best of your time in the water.


When swimming against rough water, adjusting your stroke so your hands are kept at 180 degrees to each other – so that your front hand catches the water at the same moment your back arm leaves it – can help you cover distance and avoid any dead spots in your stroke. This is a very fast method if you are swimming upstream in a river or against a choppy surface and is likely to be the most productive. That said, it can be very tiring to maintain this for long distances. You also need to think about keeping your body streamlined, rotating properly without over-rotating, and having a leg kick that aids body position rather than pure propulsion without throwing you out of a streamlined position.

For further advice, see Dan’s advice on stroke rates.

Ant Rozetsky


When swimming directly into the wind, expect your time to be slower than average. If planning a recreational swim, aim to have the wind behind you. If you are in an event without this control, try to keep your head lower when sighting to keep your head-on profile smaller and out of the wind. Look for fixed larger objects in line with the direction buoys you are heading towards so you can lift the eyes, get a quick snapshot of your direction and get your head back down quickly.

Hurly Burly 2017, Vivienne Rickman-Poole


If you’re a first-time 10k swimmer, consider entering smaller, shorter races in advance to build your confidence and stamina. Lessons with experienced open water coaches will also help, especially in a group environment. To prevent wearing yourself out too early, start conservatively and don’t draw deep on your energy supplies too soon. Breathing bilaterally can be a useful way of holding back from starting too fast. If you are rushing a single sided continuous breath to provide enough air for the pace you have set, it might well be too fast for a long swim.

Hurly Burly 2017, Vivienne Rickman Poole


Before you swim, check a detailed weather forecast such as XC Weather or BBC Weather, taking into account wind speed and direction as well as general conditions.

For a swell forecast, check Surf Forecast or MagicSeaweed.

If there is chance of intimidating conditions and you are still getting in, swim with someone, or swim with someone watching who can keep a closer eye on the weather. If something doesn’t feel right, take action.

If you are taking part in an event, looking at previous event reports, such as these for the Dart 10k  and Hurly Burly, may help prepare yourself for what to expect in terms of conditions.


And, of course, enjoy your swim. The water is changeable and that is what makes each swim wonderful, whether it is a personal challenge or an organised event. The water’s unique, sometimes erratic character is what keeps us coming back.

You will never have the same swim twice. You might as well enjoy every one.  


Bonnie Radcliffe