5 Ways Open Water And Pool Meets Are Different

Courtesy of Elizabeth Wickham

As I enjoyed the beauty of Castaic Lake while watching Open Water Nationals, I reflected on the differences between open water and pool meets. I saw many familiar facesswimmers, parents, and coaches. The swimmers were dressed as usual with caps, goggles and fast suits, but the atmosphere was decidedly different than at a pool. Dont get me wrong, both pool and open water meets are wonderful experiences for our kids, but they do have their differences.

Here are five observations about open water meets:


One Race.

At an open water meet, youll only watch your swimmer race one event in a day. The good news is its a long one. Youll get to watch for an hour or two, depending on the length of the race. You wont be asked to lap count, time or stay for relays, either.



Theres no need for parents to worry about times. Times wont get your swimmer to the next level. With currents, winds, weather and water temperatures coming into play, youre not going to hear a lot of Whats your swimmers time?Its about racing, not the times. Instead, youll ask, Where did my swimmer place?


You can’t watch your swimmer’s entire race.

At a pool, you can watch your swimmer dive, swim, turn, swim, etc. until the touchall without moving. At an open water race, youll see your swimmer make their way to the water, swim to the line-up, and start. By this time, binoculars are needed to see which tiny cap in the distance is your child. As theyre swimming, you can hike to a good vantage point and when theyre closer to shore, make out which swimmer is yours by their cap and stroke, until they swim away again.


More time to talk.

In my experience, when the swimmers are out of sight of coaches and parents, its more relaxed. The coaches dont seem to mind talking for a few minutes, youll see other parents you know and nobody is racing off to watch their child. When the swimmers get closer to the shore people stop talking and make their way to the edge of the lake to cheer and wave on their swimmers.


Fewer swimmers.

A national level pool meet can have a lot of swimmersmore than a thousand. At an open water meet, there can be less than 100 swimmers, even fewer than 50 per event. This creates a close-knit community feeling. Plus, you have a lakeside park to stretch out in. Its a friendly, open atmosphere without being packed in around a pool deck. Theres plenty of parking spaces to choose from, too.

What differences do you see between open water and pool meets?

Elizabeth Wickham volunteered for 14 years on her kids’ club team as board member, fundraiser, newsletter editor and “Mrs. meet manager.” She’s a writer with a bachelor of arts degree in editorial journalism from the University of Washington with a long career in public relations, marketing and advertising. Her stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines including the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Parenting and Ladybug. You can read more parenting tips on her blog: http://bleuwater.me/.

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4 years ago

No hacking coughs at the end of the day/weekend due to chlorinated air!

4 years ago

Uncontrollable conditions – particularly water temperature! I don’t care who you are, 68-69 degrees is COLD water. And that water temp does not qualify for wetsuits. This was really difficult conditions for many of these swimmers, particularly those with very little body fat. Check out the DNF list at the end of the results. Mental toughness is at a crazy high in OW races! Not only are these athletes swimming for 2+ hours, they are battling the weather/water conditions and each other sometimes!

4 years ago

As a swimmer there are two things that feel so much different 1) you often can’t see the bottom (which is weird when you are used to staring at the black line at the bottom) 2) getting kicked in the face, since you’re not your own lane. That being said I love swimming open water!

4 years ago

I think it is most interesting to see those following the leader have to decide if the leader really knows the best track to the next buoy. Several times have seen 3 or 4 follow the leader and a 2nd group gain alot because the 4th or 5th guy realizes the other group is on the wrong path… or at least they hope so when they strike out on their own.