I’d say which stroke you should use depends on the given conditions. If its flat it doesn’t make much difference but if its sloppy, choppy or gnarly, it does. Paying attention to the waves and timing your breathing accordingly is important. For me freestyle (or crawl as I learned it) is the preferred stroke mainly because its efficient, I like it and I’m good at it.
If I’m swimming from the beach out to the line up, ie against the direction of the waves, no matter what the conditions are, its freestyle because you can smoothly dive a wave. If I’m swimming in to the beach I usually use breast because wave direction is at your back and if a wave breaks over your head its no big deal. If I’m swimming parallel to the beach, outside of the impact zone, its whatever I feel like.
Some years back I snapped my leash on a big NE swell in like late March on an ugly wipeout. It was breaking a good ways off the beach that day so I was a long way out. The first thought through my head was, sheeeeeet how long is it going to take me to get in, because I had been out for a while and was starting to lose body temp. So I started swimming freestyle and I quickly found that the amount of rubber I had on was very inhibiting to that stroke. At that point I’ll admit to being a bit scared. I then turned to a vigorous side stroke which was much easier to do. After a while I realized that vigorous wasn’t necessary because the push of the fetch was moving me along a lot faster than I thought.
Anybody that wants to play in water over their head should be able to swim and IMO every surfer should be able to swim a good 100 yds in any conditions they are willing to surf in.
Just for a laugh try paddling your board butterfly, its interesting.
I picked "other": I prefer to have my dive fins, a mask, snorkel and either spear or spear gun. Not only am I efficient horizontally, I am also efficient vertically up to my comfort level holding my breath around 40' and not to mention very deadly to any tasty looking sea creature.
My favorite swims are off the beach on WB South End and around the jetties at slack high tide and off the beach at Kure on one of the three days every year the water is clear enough to spear on Sheepshead Rock. It's about 1/2-3/4 of a mile offshore and can get interesting on the way in if you are pulling a stringer full of fish....
This is a great poll question and I appreciate everyone's responses, especially the triathletes and ocean lifeguards. I'd say that any answer needs to be prefaced with "It depends . . ."
For pure open ocean swimming (with no surfboard, paddleboard, bodyboard, etc.), like in a competitive event such as a triathlon, or a beach patrol guard swimming out to make a rescue, it sounds like freestyle with head above water or bilateral breathing technique is the best option for speed. I am not so sure about "efficiency," if one defines efficiency as getting from pt A to pt B with least amount of energy used. I think cases can be made for breaststroke or sidestroke (which are no doubt slower than freestyle) as being less tiresome, especially for the person who doesn't have a competitive swimming background. Experienced competitive swimmers have a very efficient freestyle stroke because they've probably spent hours training and have gone through countless stroke clinics with coaches who help improve arm and leg movements for the entire stroke cycle.
I think for surfers, bodyboarders, and paddle boarders who lose their board while in the surf, this question becomes more important, and everyone should think about what they would do in bigger, heavier, or rougher conditions. I lived in Hawaii for 15 years before moving back to my home state of Maryland, and I had several instances on Oahu's North Shore where my leash broke and I lost my board on big days. If my board was near enough and I thought I could get to it before it got washed in, I would go for it using heads up freestyle. If my board was inside and I knew I would be in for a long swim in through the impact zone, I would do sidestroke (facing either left or right, or sometimes switching). I used sidestroke to conserve my energy, and I could actually go pretty fast, at least as fast as I could breaststroke. I preferred sidestroke over breaststroke because it was easier to look outside to see when sets were coming, while still swimming towards the shore (or towards the channel where waves weren't breaking). It definitely sucked getting hit by a big set without your board and you were starting to feel tired swimming. My technique when I was sidestroking in and a big set or wall of whitewater was approaching would be to keep swimming in until the wave or whitewater got pretty close, then I would turn and face the wave/whitewater, take a big breath, dive down and take a couple of pulls and kicks (but not too many to save energy), turn so I was facing the surface with my back facing the bottom and spreadeagle my arms and legs (one of my navy surf bros called this the "human sea anchor" technique), and swim up for air after the turbulence subsided.
Having a swim-in plan or idea of what you're going to do if you lose your board is probably a good idea, although now that I surf Assateague or Indian River these days, "plan" is probably too strong of a word for "head to beach." In Hawaii, if we were out with people we knew and someone lost a board, we always had someone with a board "escort" the person swimming in through the impact zone. Even if someone lost a board whom we didn't know, we'd still keep an eye on him or her and sometimes escort them in. It was also standard practice to retrieve someone's board and either hold it for them or paddle it back out to them (usually as they were simultaneously swimming in), while towing your own board by its leash (realizing your own board posed a risk if others were nearby while you had it dragging behind you).
Of course, if I could do the Man from Atlantis dolphin swim, I wouldn't have posted this long-winded response and I probably wouldn't even need no steenkin' surfboard to catch waves . . .
Swim whenever you like on your own schedule at your own perfect place. No traveling, no crowded pools, no heavy chlorine. I am a distance swimmer (1500m in the pool, anything more open water!) I mostly preferred freestyle.
I misunderstood and thought this was a survival type of post. I was thinking survival stroke. I lifeguarded from age16-22 on the Atlantic Ocean and agree with the "it depends" answer. Triathlons are way different than being shipwrecked 5 miles offshore and call for different techniques.
I'm impressed so many folks are into ocean swimming here...
I used to switch up running/ swimming (even did a sprint triathlon) in Micronesia which was sharky but crystal clear water with maximum visibility and very reefy inside a mile or so cutting down on chop but Florida is too murky for me to feel comfortable about the sharkyness
i dont know what freestyle is.i usually doggy paddle or breast stroke.i find it hard to do the swimming where u have ur head in water and lean to get a breath.all u really gotta do for the ocean is tread water.if u can tread water for 30mins youll be ok.water comes in,water goes out.thats all u need to know.use the oceans energy instead of wasting your energy.go out with a rip,and bodysurf in!
my mothers boyfriends grandma,is supposedly some crazy olympic swimmer.idk,idc,but grandma can swim.u can catch her anyday in the summer between sea bright and sandy hook.she swims like a half mile out,then swims parrelel to beach.me and my buddy were out on day,and seen her,not kknowing who she is,we tried to swim out to her to rescue her,if she was in stress,which she wasnt,but shes a hell of a swimmer.if ur a local at sandy hook,you definitly know who im talking about.old white lady with short hair.