Milt Nelms On Open Water Swimming

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

In today’s WOWSA Live, Catherine Breed talked about being exposed to viewing swimming from a different perspective by Milt Nelms while swimming at University of California Berkeley – see interview below.

Instead of angles, Coach Nelms speaks about swimming with curves in mind.

Married to Olympic gold medalist Shane Gould [shown above], Nelms often speak differently – eloquently – about movement through the water, whether it is in the pool or open water, whether it is for Olympic champions or newcomers who are dipping their toes in the ocean for the first time.

The power couple of aquatics – the renowned Australian champion and the renowned American coach – have long talk profoundly and passionately about swimming and how open water swimming has played into their plans to help many learn how to swim.

Nelms, one of the world’s leading experts and innovators in swimming technique, has worked with many of the world’s best swimmers and served as a consultant to organizations and governments around the world on teaching swimming to people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds. For someone who has been around pool decks his adult life, Nelms talks poetically about open water swimming. “The concept of ocean swimming is very appealing to me. We spend all day in some sort of a figurative (or real) box moving back and forth according to someone else’s rules or instructions. Not so in the ocean. You go out, you come back. That is enough, and to me, it is a lot.

Pool swimming is very quantitatively driven. If you go to a meet, such as any large age group meet, they are really not about racing as much as they are about times. At sectionals where there are 180 girls entered in the 100 free, how many are racing mano-a-mano? Not more than a handful. There are many entire heats of 8 virtually identical times.

In pool competitions, a non-gratifying physical experience with a fast time is seen as a success, or a pleasurable physical experience can be deflated by a bad time. In a pool competition, a close race that is won and yields a slow time often is a disappointment. Similarly, a race that is lost – but yields a fast time is celebrated. Take the seconds and the centimeters out of either of those situations and you would have a different reality.

Oceans swims are experiential and episodic. There is no distraction of miniscule measurement, only generalities of thirds or halves that are inexact because of other variables such as wind, tides, or currents. It is the quality of the experience at different levels, or pure strategic racing that defines the event.”

His description of open water swimming is right to the point – experiential and episodic. Those words – whether one is swimming in a 1 km race or doing a channel swim as Breed has done so successfully – certainly ring true no matter what the ocean, lake, river or bay swimmers are in. Breed explains her own experiences below:

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