Occasionally, it is fun to just think outside the box and imagine what could be – in terms of products, services and capabilities – in the world of open water swimming if there were no shortage of resources and time. Some new ideas would benefit competitive swimmers and triathletes; some new ideas would benefit newbies and veterans.
Open Water Source imagined 10 ideas that may change the world of open water swimming over the next 50 years. The technology and new products will not come right away, but they will soon enough.
Idea #1: Intelligent goggles with navigational tools overlaid on Google maps
One of the key talents of experienced open water swimmers is to be able to navigate well in the dynamic conditions of the open water. Swimming straight and understanding where you are going and at what pace you are swimming is the information that coaches and escort crews are responsible for.
But imagine if your goggles functioned as intelligent contact lenses? Before you swim, your course is wirelessly uploaded to your intelligent goggles. As you swam, your current course is visually represented on your goggle lens over the optimal course so you can not only specifically navigate as you wish, but the information on your visual virtual window also presents your pace per kilometer.
Idea #2: Timing transponders have GPS capabilities
Currently, many open water swimming events incorporate timing chips or transponders to officially time a swimmer. Based on the time, the swimmer is given their placing within the race, distance, gender and age group. The timing chips are simply used to measure time.
Idea #3: Wrist watches with intelligent water temperature gauges
Wrist watches are waterproof and worn by many open water swimmers who wish to take their time on training swims or races. And swimmers are often curious about the water temperature, often depending on public sources of information or a water thermometer on a pier, boat or marine buoy.
But what if wrist watches had a memory chip that constantly measured water temperature? Then that information is uploaded to a website that is overlaid with the Google maps. Then the course map can be color coded from red (warm water) to blue (cold water) throughout the entire swim. Each course may have warmer spots and cooler spots, and often swimmers remember precisely where those spots were.
Idea #4: POW comes to Disney World
POW or Pool Open Water are events that replicate open water swims in a pool. The lane lines are removed from a pool as 4 turn buoys are placed in the corners. Athletes swim around the perimeter as training or competition.
But what if a POW event were held in a large resort like Disney World where thousands of spectators could see the world’s best open water swimmers race around the water parks in a televised special? With announcers like Rowdy Gaines of the USA, Pieter Pieter van Hoogenboard of the Netherlands, and Vladimir Salnikov of Russia, the made-for-TV special could draw an international audience – and be followed by a pro-am race with celebrity entertainers.
Idea #5: A mind memory data base for channel swimmers
Athletes, including channel swimmers, say that the mind is the most important element of enhanced performance. 80% mental and 20% physical. What goes through an athlete’s mind can range from fear to self-confidence, from questioning of their goals to temptations of quitting. Athletes talk to themselves, say mantras, sing repetitively, pray and think about their family, friends and other people in their lives. Sometimes, they zone out and go blank. Sometimes, they intensively think about their pains or their pace; their techniques or their tactics; their hunger or their hydration.
But if their thoughts are able to be captured and archived for the swimmer’s recollection later? And what if those thoughts were cataloged and data mined so the athletes themselves could analyze their thoughts? Or coaches could understand what percentage of their thoughts were positive in nature (e.g., feeling good, strong, and fast), negative in nature (e.g., feeling pain, regret, or disappointment), neutral (e.g., zoning out), or specific in some way (e.g., singing, praying or thinking about projects, work or family responsibilities). And what if this information could be analyzed on a global scale so psychologists could understand the differences in thought between men and women, young and old, newbies and veterans?
Idea #6: Swim caps with magnetic and sonar capabilities
Swim caps are often required by different races and worn by many people. But they also tend to fall off at the most inopportune times and are completely indistinguishable when the entire field wears the same colored cap.
But what if open water swim caps are magnetically attracted to human hair or the hair follicles of those with shaven or bald heads? The swim caps would no longer start sliding off stroke-by-stroke.
Additionally if the magnetic forces on the swim cap are able to power a sonar sensor within the cap, then an identification system could be tied to each individual. So if you are swimming in the 45th position in heat 2 of a mass participation swim, your family, friends, coach and race announcer would know where you are in the midst of the field, but also your current placing.
Idea #7: The next aquatic event added to the Olympics is an ice swim
The Olympic 10K Marathon Swim has been successfully held before tens of thousands of fans at both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. The 2016 Rio Olympics will undoubtedly take open water swimming to a whole new level, held off the shores of Copacabana Beach.
But with the growth of extreme swimming, like the addition of extreme sports like snowboarding and BMX cycling at the Olympics, it makes logical sense for an ice kilometer swim to be added to the Winter Olympics. Downhill skiing, mogul skiing, luge, ski jumping…these are examples of Winter Olympic sports that present visually present risk to an international sporting audience. Snow, mountains, speed and elements of danger are what are exciting to see.
Similarly, extreme swimmers walking down to the start through snow-laden shorelines to a start in a frozen lake, wearing only porous swim briefs, would capture the attention of Olympic fans. Contested in high-altitude lakes in proximity to the Olympic Village, the final heat of 25 male ice swimmers and the final heat of 25 female ice swimmers would most definitely cause significant buzz while inspiring additional generations of newbie extreme swimmers. Commentators would talk about the decrease in core body temperature, the afterdrop and how these hardened athletes have acclimated themselves to the greatest extreme possible.
Idea #8: Knowledge of open water swimming becomes second nature to swimming coaches
Swimming coaches around the world are knowledgeable about butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle as well as nutrition, dryland training, starts, turns and basic physiology. There are over 20,000 dedicated pool swimming coaches in the world. But the number of dedicated and knowledgeable open water swimming coaches around the world number in the dozens.
What if knowledge of open water swimming – from tactics and techniques to safety and equipment – became as second nature to these pool coaches as butterfly is? How many more athletes would be introduced to the sport of open water swimming? How much safer could events become? How much faster would athletes swim as they matured if they incorporated open water training during youth development?
Idea #9: Marine Wi-Fi fabrics
First there were wool swimsuits. Then swimsuits were made from tighter-fitting, faster drying nylon, Latex and a variety of synthetic materials.
But what if Speedo created a swimsuit that incorporated fibers filled with nano-capacitors that can send and receive signals and be tied into a fiber-optic network? Then swimmers could immediately upload their workouts, update Facebook, send emails, and post photos on Instagram no matter where they are. Real-time communications could even be implemented on beaches and boats around the world.
Idea #10: Solar powered water vessels
Motorized boats and surf skis are used during all kinds of open water swims, from short local swims to long channel swims. Not only are fossil fuels used, but also the exhaust from the water craft is irritating to many swimmers and triathletes.
But what if the boating industry developed the requisite batteries and incorporated highly efficient solar panels to provide all the power necessary to drive boats and surf skis. Goodbye exhaust. Sayonara to limitations to how far boats could travel.
These radical ideas – and many other ideas like them including some more detailed and some more grandiose – will change the face, scope and ambiance of the sport of open water swimming over the next few generations.
Photo shows Benjamin Schulte, a 16-year-old from Guam who may see a few of these changes over the course of his career.
Copyright © 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association