Let’s face it: Swimming in open water is hugely different from swimming in a pool. These differences take some getting used to, and require the development of personal confidence: The water is usually colder and deeper, it may have a unique taste, and is often darker. No lifeguards or lane ropes nearby. Stuff in the water. Stuff on the water. Winds, waves, currents, riptides, glare–all of which can change in minutes. No easy way to swim straight.
And yet open water swimming is more popular than ever, with lots of newcomers every year, many branching out from the safety of the pool to further build confidence in the natural environment of open water.
Enter the Swim Buddy.
What is it?
The “personal swim buoy” was first developed about 20 years ago in Asia to enhance visibility of swimmers in open water races, and a few years later was embraced in North America by the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Florida, who also saw the safety value of this device. It is an inflated device that is attached by a short tether to a waist belt. When swimming, it is towed behind the swimmer, occupying a space over the backs of the knees, where it is just out of reach of the finish of any arm stroke, and just short of the feet, so it does not interfere with kicking. And remarkably, it causes no drag whatsoever—the bow wave created by the swimmers’ advancing shoulders creates an eddy behind the Swim Buddy that actually pushes it forward—really!
What does it do?
The Swim Buddy (see more at getaswimbuddy.com) entered the Canadian market in 2013 to support the swimmers in Canada’s largest open water swim event, the Across The Lake Swim in Kelowna, BC. ATLS organizers have found that it provides a brightly coloured marker for swimmers, so they can easily be monitored by coaches, spectators, or race support crews, while also being more easily seen by watercraft. Another great feature for race organizers: Because the Swim Buddy has dual air chambers, it has enough flotation to hold up a 250 lb swimmer who may need a rest for what ever reason, whether fatigue, anxiety, or injury. Being seen better, and having an option to rest while “out there” provides added security and safety for every swimmer using a Swim Buddy.
How is it made?
The Swim Buddy is now made with double seams and a highly durable nylon/PVC composite that will last for many years with reasonable care. It has an easy to use valve system for both inflation and deflation, it assembles in seconds, and comes in two very bright colours that are unmistakable in open water: Bright orange and fluorescent pink. They also come in two configurations: The smaller “Racer”, used mostly for training and racing, and the larger “Touring” model, which is about 30% larger, and also has a dry bag within it, so that can carry valuables, clothing, flip-flops, or the like for point-to-point swims.
Is it used in races?
The Swim Buddy is now required use for all open water swims doing the 3.1 and 7K Rattlesnake Island Swim near Peachland, BC; it has also been strongly recommended for use by all swimmers doing the 11 K Skaha Lake Ultra Swim next to Penticton, BC. The Swim Buddy has now also been endorsed by the North Shore Challenge as a required safety tool for all swimmers. Unfortunately, to date, Triathlon Canada have refused to endorse the personal swim buoy, suspecting without evidence that it can somehow provide an unfair propulsion advantage. Stay tuned.