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Be A Stronger Swimmer By Making Good Decisions In, On, And Near The Water

A new online NOAA Wave Safe video Series teaches swimmers how to be safe in dynamic, open water with tips specific to the location where you’re swimming.

Renowned waterman Bruckner Chase of Ocean Positive says there are three rules of thumb for staying safe in, on or near open water: respect the ocean, stay situationally aware on shore, and “take ten” to prevent second victim drownings.  

These three fundamentals are at the heart of Chase’s new video series, produced in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“It’s not enough to tell people there might be rip currents,” said Chase. “We want to keep lifeguards in chairs and swimmers from getting into a crisis by teaching people how to recognize when it’s too dangerous to go out.”

Respect the Ocean:

“Many athletes who may be strong enough to swim 3000 meters in the pool, don’t realize they may not be strong enough to swim that same distance in dynamic open water (ocean, lakes, & rivers).  The distance doesn’t translate directly,” said Chase. He says that an athlete should be able to swim 5000 pool meters to do a 3000-meter open water race.

In addition to distance, an open water swimmer needs to be able to crank up their speed even when they’re tired. “To be successful in open water, you need to bust out some speed at the end of your race to get through the impact zone, where the waves break near the shore,” said Chase. “That’s the zone where swimmers most frequently get disoriented and held underwater. The more time you spend in that zone, the more tired and tumbled you’ll get.”

Chase says the real key to safety is being aware of your abilities and experience before you enter the water. “There’s an adage,” said Chase. “If in doubt don’t go out.” It doesn’t matter if a race director cancels a race or not. Some days aren’t for beginners. If you don’t have experience in difficult or choppy conditions, don’t tackle them for the first time in a race situation. It’s critical that you know your abilities and don’t overestimate them. If you feel the need to ask a lifeguard if it’s safe for you or your kids to swim, the answer is automatically ‘no.'”

Luckily for Chase, staying out of the water on high danger days isn’t a deal-breaker for his training program. “You can be inside and safe from weather, waves, water conditions, and jellyfish by training on a Vasa Swim Ergometer,” said Chase. Vasa is always a safe place to work out when training for any type of open water swims – lakes, rivers, ocean – as well as training for paddleboarding, surfing, SUP and kayaking.

Stay Situationally Aware

“A swimmer entering open water needs to be aware of everything going on,” says Chase “In the ocean, ‘sighting’ is overrated. The direction of the waves, the wind, and the orientation of the sun are all more important when you’re in the ocean navigating a swim course. Even in 1 to 2-foot size surf, you can’t necessarily see a buoy, the lifeguards or other markers.”

When he is swimming, Chase takes a mental snapshot of what’s around him on every breath. “If you’re swimming along the beach, ask yourself, do I see the beach every time I breathe to that side? That will give you information about the course you’re on. You have to be aware of what’s forward, right, left and behind you. That way you’ll see markers, and notice when you can’t see them. You’ll see waves that might be breaking, or get clued into a current that’s dragging you.”

Chase says a swimmer or triathlete isn’t done with the swim until they’re back on land, crossed the finish tape or entered the transition zone. “You’re not safe and clear until your feet are planted firmly on dry sand,” said Chase. “It not uncommon to find yourself in a five-foot deep gully near the shore after you think you’re in the shallows. You can’t count on the shore conditions from a pre-race swim. If you pre-swim at low tide, then race at high tide, what’s happening on the shoreline could be much different by then. If you already have your wetsuit half off and your goggles in your hand you’re no longer prepared. A wave breaking behind a swimmer can drop them in seconds.”

Take Ten

In Chase’s video series, “taking ten” is about preventing second victim drownings. Well-intentioned rescuers without proper equipment, back-up, and training can often become a second victim. Heed his advice. If a swimmer is in trouble, find a life ring to throw to them, and try to calm them.

If your Ironman swim starts at 7 AM, and if your race or training swim lasts even just an hour, tides, waves and winds can change dramatically in the ocean during that short time period. Chase says that whether you’re the rescuer or the swimmer, staying calm can save lives. If you go out often enough, something like an unexpected wave can rattle you,” said Chase. “Rely on what you know about moving through the water. Once people go down the fear and panic spiral, they make emotionally charged decisions and can put themselves in more danger. Rest, float on your back, and if you need help, hold a hand up for a lifeguard to assist you. If you’ve entered the water and you get hit by a wave or it’s choppier than you expected, stay calm. Take a moment and breathe. Look around. Is it calmer beyond the surf, or do you turn back to shore and say not my day to swim?”

Don’t miss a workout for bad weather

When you’re training and conditions aren’t cooperating, you don’t need to skip your workout. “I was scheduled to do an ocean swim, I heard thunder rumbling in the distance, so I got on my Vasa SwimErg instead,” said Chase the morning we interviewed him. “If you’re 20-30 minutes out in the ocean, things can change. On the Vasa, that’s a non-issue.”

Maintain fitness, even when you’re injured

Chase also used Vasa when a foot laceration kept him out of the water. “I couldn’t walk, I had stitches for 6 weeks, and getting in the water was out of the question. I couldn’t walk on sand, let alone get in the water and swim.”

Chase was training in earnest for the 2018 Lifesaving World Championships, which he describes as the surf lifesaving version of an Ironman, with events including swimming, prone paddleboarding, surf skiing and running.

For the three months leading up to the event, he did each sport-specific workout on his Vasa Trainer SwimErg. He paddled on his knees to simulate prone paddleboarding. He used the kayak attachment to replicate surf-ski kayak paddling. And he used it to do a lot of swim-specific training – all in the comfort of his home training room. At the Surf Lifesaving World Championships competition, Chase achieved a top-ten in the Ironman event and surf swim.

Indoor SwimErg training improves outdoor race times

Training for the 2018 Worlds using his Vasa SwimErg worked so well, he committed to incorporating regular Vasa training. Chase told us, “my strength is exactly where it needs to be, and on the Vasa, I can mix knee paddling and swimming just as I would in a Surf Lifesaving Ironman.” We spoke to him when he was training for the 2019 Canadian Professional Surf Life Saving Championships in Nova Scotia.

“I still need to be in the ocean to finesse reading waves and to practice being in tune and in touch with my environment. But I also need to be strong enough to respond to what the waves and ocean are giving me, so I am supplementing my ocean training with Vasa training for swimming and surf ski. Otherwise, with all the storms popping up, I’d be missing workouts left and right. I can duplicate every discipline and even do Ironman sessions on the Vasa.”

While in Chase’s world, finesse and feel are a key part of the equation, he says that the metrics he gets from the Vasa SwimErg power meter have helped him be a better athlete.

New swimmers and para-athletes can benefit from Vasa Ergometer training too

 “Open water can short circuit an adult-onset swimmer’s ability to rank perceived exertion,” said Chase. “Vasa’s power meter is the only tool that tells you how strong your right arm is versus your left. No watch gives you that information when you’re swimming in a pool or in the open water.”

Chase, who just turned 53, continues to train and compete. He also works with Surf Life Saving Australia, most recently developing a groundbreaking para-surf lifesaving program. He is beginning to work with USA Triathlon to adapt the science and safety components in the Wave Safe series into a curriculum for athletes, coaches, and race directors to enhance safety, training, and performance in dynamic open water environments.

And he’s spreading the word on the benefits of Vasa SwimErgs, taking his to the Atlantic City U.S. Coast Guard Air Station for swimmers to try, and to Bacharach so spinal cord injury patients can give it a spin.

“The Vasa SwimErg, in a rehab center, provides physical benefits to those with spinal cord injuries and disease just like the outdoor paddling program.  It also allows athletes to develop the balance, endurance and strength they will need in an open water setting, like Para-surf Life Saving paddling and open water swimming.

In open water, strength plus knowledge plus staying calm equals success

“As an athlete and open water safety specialist, I’ve learned that whatever your physical abilities are, the key to success is don’t fight the environment, work with it,” summarized Chase. “You may not be the fastest pool swimmer but physical strength, knowledge and the ability to be situationally calm all together can give you an advantage.”


Bruckner Chase:  Founder and CEO Bruckner Chase Ocean Positive, Professional Ocean Lifeguard, Former Corporate Director, Collaborative Partner NOAA NWS, Technical Advisor for Ocean and Beach Safety, Science and Conservation

Bruckner Chase is an internationally recognized ocean advocate and professional waterman whose athletic career spans the world in the most challenging adventures and events on water and land in some of the harshest conditions imaginable.   Bruckner’s athletic pursuits and innovative, evidence-based initiatives from American Samoa to Poland and the Jersey Shore provide opportunities to empower and positively impact individual and community behavior towards our shared aquatic environments while also building capacity and opportunities across multiple areas.  He is a former executive who worked in international project and brand development for companies such as Abercrombie & Fitch and West Marine who traded a traditional office for an aquatic and community-focused career with an innate understanding that mutually beneficial partnerships with measurable positive impacts are the foundation for sustainable initiatives and concept development.  Bruckner is also a gifted and engaging speaker who brings the insights, knowledge, and passion he confronts in the water to audiences around the world. Through his Bruckner Chase Ocean Positive Foundation he is personally and professionally committed to the mission: TO POSITIVELY IMPACT HOW WE FEEL, THINK AND ACT TOWARDS OUR OCEANS AND COMMUNITIES.

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