Relax Your Stroke

A Little shipwreck on one of the beaches I frequent with the Dog

My car clock said 8:20 and the temperature read 105.  After dousing my hair with clean water, gulping down handfuls of pomegranate seeds, climbing into the car and driving for a few minutes the digital display had worked its way down to 96. 

Since moving to Oman I have wanted to start open water swimming in the warm Arabian Sea and last week was the first time I felt like it wasn’t too hot.  That’s right, it’s finally cooled off enough to ocean swim in the wee hours of the morning. 

I’ve been lap swimming for years, but plunging into the salty sea, critters abounding and searing water creeping into your nose, is a different feeling.  I spent most of my first swim trying to push out thoughts of zebra sharks and sea snakes that might slowly creep into my field of vision, thus causing panic verging on freak out.  Not that I don’t want to see them in the right context, but mid stroke I was afraid I would splash about and become tangled up with something slimy.  Oman has fantastic sea life and snorkeling, but honestly, in this particular spot my fears were pretty unrealistic.  I saw a few sardines and crabs crawling about on the rocks that dotted the cove, but it’s a pretty coral-less beach. 

Yesterday we headed for a wilder beach without protection from man made jetties.  The rocking waves are both fantastic and frustrating.  We started against the current and when you’ve been paddling for what feels like hours and look to the shoreline to discover you’ve only gone a few meters its kind of a bummer.  But after my first open water swim I came home and googled “open water swimming” because I’m nerdy like that.  One of the tips I came to again and again was relax your stroke.  The first instinct when a particularly strong current sweeps across you is to swim faster, kick harder, work your way through it and stay on course.  But I found that if I let it move me a bit farther out to sea or towards the shore instead of fighting, I can maintain momentum and save energy – putting me back on course faster and with less effort.     

I swim with a few older women and when we pause to catch our breath or stretch our arms on the sand we talk about Islam, Architecture, Politics, The new Opera house in Muscat and gardening.   I usually have little to contribute to the conversation, but I listen and ask questions of women who have lived here far longer and seen much more than I have.  I’ve swapped out my sleek black swimmers cap for a bright pink one in order to identify myself to fishing boats that zip along the coast and I wear tight pants to my calves so as not to offend the locals who troll the beach each morning.  Yesterday I saw a spikey sea urchin and a few fusiliers who had momentarily abandoned their schools.   

It takes all morning to drive out to the beach, stretch, swim, wash off, dry, kick sand away and navigate my car back across the beach and onto the paved road again.  But I’ve got things to do and meals to cook and a house to clean and library lessons to prepare for and plants that need repotting - do I really have time for this?     

Relax your stroke I think to myself.  


  1. I think you are very brave. The very thought of ocean swimming just plain old scares me. Way to go doll-face.