Using a wave-like action is an important skill in swimming. It is useful in quite a number of situations and strokes.
If you have ever had the tremendous opportunity to ride a wave, then you will know how exciting it is and what it feels like. To feel the weight of a rising wave gather behind you, pick you up and push you over water is a beautiful feeling. You will accelerate as you are released from the weight of your body and then are suddenly skimming over water. It is so exciting it can be addictive.
Riding a wave takes practise and skill. Most people are not successful on their first try. Once you know the ‘trick’ then you can do it over and over again. Seasoned surfers ‘catch’ a wave every time they try; beginners sometimes don’t catch one wave all day.
If you are a competitive swimmer you should learn to ride a wave. Both Breaststroke and Butterfly include riding a wave within the stroke. With correct balance the feeling of sliding forwards, like riding a wave, it very important to correct technique. It is also useful if you have a very big kick in Frontcrawl and it can also be put to use in riding someone else’s wave in the lane beside you.
If you think that surfing isn’t that important a skill for swimmers it might be important to note some of the following Olympic Gold medallists:
Duke Kahanamoku. Commemorating the greatest water sportsman of all time, you will find a large bronze statue just off the beach on the side-walk in Waikiki. It is of Duke Kahanamoku. One of the most famous swimmers of all time. He called himself a surfer but won Olympic gold in the pool. ‘The Duke‘ was a Fisherman, Sailor, Canoeist, Rower, Surfer & Body Surfer and Olympic Champion Swimmer. Swimmers who can surf have a good reputation and The Duke is the prime example. He brought the skill of surfing to many countries after his fame as an unknown native Hawaiian swimmer who won against the elite swimmers of the day. He brought surfing to Australia, mainland USA and Britain becoming the Father of Surfing.
Duncan Armstrong. Unlikely as it sounds, the ‘Aussie’ swimmer Duncan Armstrong, won a Olympic Gold medal partly due to his ability to surf on another swimmers wave. Armstrong found himself in his coach’s (Laurie Lawrence) favourite lane (‘lucky lane six‘) in the final of the 200m Freestyle in Seoul in the 1988 Olympics. I was lucky enough to be in Seoul to watch this race. Armstrong was in the lane next to World Record Holder and multiple Olympic Medallist Matt Biondi in the final of the 200m Freestyle. Armstrong surfed on Biondi’s wave on the third length of the 200m race and powered home on the final length to win against his surprised rivals.
Grant Hackett. As young Australian swimmer, Grant Hackett was a Surf Lifesaver National Champion before he was Olympic Champion in the 1500m Frontcrawl in 2000.
Aaron Piersol. An iconic Californian Backstroker. He has a well known laid-back surfer attitude and was able to win an Olympic gold in back-to-back Olympics. He is an avid surfer.
Riding a wave of another competitor is a safe bet if the swimmer you are trying to ‘catch’ is bigger than you. I remember I had a brilliant chance to ride a wave against a huge east German swimmer called Sven Lodewski. He was over 2m tall. I found out he was in the lane next to me and I unashamedly swam as close to the lane line as I could! Strangely, he swam next to his lane line on my side. He couldn’t seem to get away from the lane line and I surfed! My 400m free time took a huge drop that day!
Beautiful surfing swimmers can actually ride their own wave. The surf feeling would be slightly less than getting carried over the wave but similar. The best Breaststroke swimmers come to mind from three different countries; Anne Ottenbright, Amanda Beard and Suki Brownsdon. All three of these girls were natural talents who were very young international performers. Normally the power that these young girls had in pre-pubescence is un-attainable after their body begins to mature in puberty but these performers were able to maintain the strength:weight ratio that is required to ride over the surface to surf off of your breaststroke kick. All three of these girls would rise out of the water to almost full half body height and dive forward as their kick launches them into a surfing motion. Very difficult to attain and even harder to maintain; beautiful to watch.
And then we have Butterfly swimmers. Butterfly swimmers would be quite happy retiring in Fiji or Hawai’i. The delicate feel of the surfing motion is absolutely personified if you watch any one of the best Butterfly swimmers in slow motion. Michael Phelps looks like he has a flat style until you see his stroke under water; he dives down and rides his own wave perfectly using his flexibility to his advantage. Another swimmer with great flexibility and an ability to ride his own wave was Michael Gross. He held numerous world records in the 1980’s in the Butterfly events. His undulation looked like he simply ‘bounced’ along the surface riding his own wave stroke after stroke.
As a coach you should look for the ability to surf. A swimmer who can slide along or moves through the water with great ease is a ‘keeper’. You should do your best to make sure that they are motivated and have fun so that you have the time to nurture their talent and love of swimming.
The way that swimming strokes are going today is to swim with your balance slightly tinted downwards. This is a lot like surfing. So it would seem to me that surfing is becoming a primary skill in the world of swimming…time to book a swim camp where you can surf!