By: Rob Dumouchel
Whenever I talk to my triathlete friends about the Pacific Grove Triathlon one word dominates the conversation: KELP! It's fair to say there's a little bit of it at the cove by Lovers Point where the swim leg of the race goes down. I mean the local swim crew is named the Kelp Krawlers, if that's any indication of the vegetation situation. Despite just being a big green plant that largely minds its own business, a lot of swimmers are intimidated by the kelp. Here's the good news kelp isn't going to hurt you. It's not going to tangle you up and drag you to the bottom of the ocean. it floats! At worst it's a mild hindrance, at best knowing how to deal with it may actually turn into an advantage on your swim.
In my own swimming I prefer cold ocean water over the chlorinated kind so I spend a lot of my time navigating through the tops of kelp forests. At first kelp would spook me out. It's rough and scratchy feeling on bare skin and sometimes loose pieces of it floating in the ocean sneak up and scare the life out of you. I call this the ninja kelp phenomenon. These days I see a kelpy race course as an advantage. Last year I took part in the 6 mile Semana Nautica race in Santa Barbara and late in the race my familiarity with the dark art of kelp krawling helped me scoot past 5 or 6 swimmers who weren't as efficient in handling it as I was.
So how does one contend with the infamous Kelp Krawl in Pacific Grove? Here's some tips to consider before you start your race:
GO SWIM IN THE OCEAN!
This is the simplest of tips but really one of the most important. Pool swimming and open water swimming aren't the same thing. Lake swimming and ocean swimming aren't the same thing. The only way to get better at swimming in the ocean is to go swim in the ocean. It's fun, you'll like it. Trust me. If you live in the Monterey area I highly recommend making friends with the Kelp Krawlers (https://www.facebook.com/KelpKrawlers), in all my travels they are one of my all time favorite groups to swim with.
Preview the course to look for channels in the kelp between buoys
The cool thing about Lovers Point is that there are plenty of elevated spaces to preview the course from to check for kelp. Do your best to pick out lines that may work. Sometimes going a little out of your way can be faster if you're in clear water. Sometimes taking the straighter line and going over the kelp will be faster. These are calls you're going to have to make on race day.
Don't stop moving & Don't go vertical
The first reaction a lot of people have to hitting a wall of kelp is to stop and drop their hips and feet. Bad move. One you just lost all your momentum and two you're going to get your feet twisted up in the kelp which will slow you down for a few seconds as you try to get started again. You want to stay high in the water and skim over the top of that kelp.
Don't Freak Out!
Thrashing and struggling is a waste of energy. If you hit a thick patch of kelp there's an excellent chance your arms will get a little tangled up. If you just keep swimming it'll work itself off in most cases. If it doesn't I usually flip over and do one or two strokes of backstroke to unwind it and get back on my way. If you're still stuck you can either grab it and pull it off yourself or just straight up crack the strand stuck on you, kelp isn't all that strong when force is applied.
Grab and Pull
While you're on top of the kelp staying flat and keeping your feet up, used the kelp like a lane line. Grab it while swimming and pull yourself forward like you would if you were cheating at the pool during a set.
Good luck to all of you competing in the Pacific Grove Triathlon! Swim fast, enjoy the natural beauty of Monterey Bay, and have fun!
Rob Dumouchel is the author of RobAquatics.com and a marathon ocean swimmer that trains year round in the waters off of Avila Beach, CA.