Intro to Intermediate/Advanced Open Water Swims

For those of you needing a challenge, you can attend our intermediate/advanced swims. These swims will vary between 2,000-3,500 yards and most swimmers in the group will probably average 1:10-1:40 per hundred over the course of their swim. 

PSA *Skip if you’re experienced


Nature of these swims

Most of these will be Tower Swims. Before setting out, the group will decide/agree how long you’ll swim. It can be either a set number of towers or a set time. For example, if the group agrees on 5 towers, you’ll swim the length of 5 lifeguard towers in one direction and then return. Or, if you’ve decided on a 40 minute swim, just turn around about the 20-minute mark.

Basically, you’ll enter the water and swim about 20 yards beyond the breakers, which is about 10 yards beyond the surfers (if they’re present at Tower 9). You’ll regroup there for about 2-3 minutes to allow everyone to catch up. This will be the only pause in your swim. This short break helps because it usually takes 3-5 minutes for your body to acclimate both to the exertion and to the cold. The swim out, about 2-3 minutes, along with the 2-3 minute regrouping, will allow your body to adapt to the conditions.

If Strongest Current is from the South

During the regrouping, you’ll figure out which way the current is coming from. The majority of the time, it is strongest from the south or neutral. This means you’ll drift a little to the north. In that case, you’ll swim south at first, parallel to shore. This is in the direction of the smokestacks off Newland Ave. You’ll see them unless it’s foggy, misty, or raining. 

In any case, swim to the south for the set time or number of towers. As a rule of thumb, towers are ~200 yards apart. 

Rough Estimate of Your Swim Length

You can multiply the number of towers by 400 to calculate the length of your swim parallel to shore. Then you can add 2x the length of the swim beyond the breakers. This number varies quite a bit depending on tide and swell conditions. The shorter the waves, the shorter your swim beyond the breakers. But, lacking a more precise measure, you can estimate that the swim beyond the breakers is ~150 yards. This means you can add 300 yards to the total distance you’ve swum parallel to shore.

Here is an example:

Let’s say it’s an average day with waves 2-3 feet. In that case, you’ll assume 150 yards for the swim out beyond the breakers. We’ll call this the B number. Then you swim 5 towers. We’ll call this the T number. So, T will be 5. To estimate your total distance, we’ll use the formula 2B + 400T. In this case, that’s 2×150 + 400×5 = 300 + 2000, for a total of 2,300 yards.

Again, probably half the swimmers, particularly triathletes, are wearing sports watches, so you can ask one of them how far your swim was.

Generally, the larger the waves, the farther out they break. So, a day with 5-7 foot waves will have a B value of ~250 yards. Congratulations! You’re swimming a little longer B number that day. Oh, and you’re probably swimming farther back to get even with Tower 9, but current is a discussion for another blog post.

If Current is from the North (the pier)

If it happens that the current is strongest from the north, as it is most of the winter months, you have some options. 

Option A: Either you can swim a Tower swim heading north

Option B: swim to the buoy and then to the end of the pier and then return 

Option C: swim to the south with the current at first and then against the current on your return trip

Option D: Swim the buoy at the start, return to the rendezvous point, and then proceed to swim south, as in a southbound tower swim. 

Option A: The problem with a north-bound tower swim is twofold: First, there are usually random surf competitions. They’re marked by an orange buoy about 250 yards out from Tower 3. This marks the quadrangle of death, as seen below:

You do not want to swim in this area. If you do, Tower Zero will yell at you using a loudspeaker. Within moments, surfers near you will be yelling at you. Then, the third movement of the chorus begins when people on the shore join in. Unless you enjoy being yelled at, do not swim in the quadrangle of death.

Oh, and even if there is not a surf comp, there’s the pier. It’s probably not moving for you. If you want to swim more than 5 towers going north, you have to shoot the pier. This can be scary, but if you’re an intermediate/advanced swimmer, your speed will help. Just beware of the odd current beneath the pier. You will want to avoid the pylons. There are barnacles there. They’re razor sharp. Hope you are up to date with your tetanus shot.

Option B for northbound swimmers:

Swim to the buoy, then take a hard right to the end of the pier. It’s ~450 yards to the buoy and then ~800 yards from there parallel to Tower 1, just south of the pier. That means the round trip, if you turn around equal to Tower 1, would be about 2,500 yards, about a mile and a half.

While the buoy swim is awesome and will give you a sense of achievement for swimming to a visible object, the other part of the swim is scary. Most people don’t want to swim ~450 yards parallel to shore and stay that far out for any length of time. I understand this. I don’t want to either. Yet, it is better than swimming through a surf comp.

If you want to swim this general route, or any route near or through the pier, please keep in mind that there are fishing lines emanating from the end of the pier almost every day. To be safe, you’ll want to swim a good 80 yards north of the pier to avoid entanglements. Even on a sunny day it’s hard to see the lines. On an overcast or cloudy day, you won’t see them. Probably don’t want to search YouTube for surfers/swimmers hooked by a fishing line at the HB pier. Did I just say that? Sorry.

Option C:

If you don’t mind swimming against the current on the second half of your swim, you could always opt to swim south at first. That way, you avoid any of the unpleasantness of surf comps, barnacle-encrusted  pylons, and errant fishing lines.

Option D:

Swim the buoy at the start, return to the rendezvous point, and then proceed to swim south, as in a southbound tower swim. This is a good option, with the only drawback being the swim against the current in the latter part of your swim. But, you’re an intermediate/advanced swimmer, so you should be fine.


On the way south, you’ll want to keep the smokestacks on your left shoulder, between 10 and 11 o’clock. As you approach the smokestacks, they’ll be closer to 10 and then 9 o’clock. Adjust accordingly.

On the way north, you can see the squat, middle building of the pier. It’s usually equivalent to the parallel part of a tower swim. For the uninitiated, it’s called the bait shack, because they sell/sold bait there. 

Regardless, the bait shack is a good target for your sighting as you swim toward the pier. It’s visible about 95% of the time.

Entering the water:

As you know, it’s wisest to shuffle or slide your feet as you enter the water. Not all stingrays are visible as some burrow beneath the sand.

Oh, and be sure to use a staggered stance when entering the water. That way, when a wave breaks, your torso is not square with the wave. Please remember this.

You can start swimming once the water is about hip level. There are arguments about the fastest ways of entering the water, but we want safety first, so just shuffle/slide at first.

We’ll cover other topics in further vlog posts. Definitely comment if you have any requests. Since I’m an adult-onset swimmer and have almost no surfing experience, I’m bound to make mistakes in terminology and also understanding basics about swimming, waves, tide, etc. But, please correct me…kindly

Thank you for watching!

You can join us on our basic swims so long as you can swim 300 yards without stopping, swim 1000 yards per workout, and tread water for 3-5 minutes. These are guidelines that will get you beyond the breakers and back on most days.