A while ago, I wrote an article detailing some definitions of swimming terminology. However, as I’ve gone through this year and have immersed (quite literally) myself into the open water swimming (OWS) world, I realized that my list was not only incomplete, but lacked the information I had been picking up about OWS. Now that I’m more aware, I wanted to share some more terms with you! Please note- a lot of these terms are used mostly in marathon swimming (10km or longer) and for anything under 10km, races and events generally are more casual so the best information can be found in my previous articles, “What You’ll See on the Swim Course of Your First Triathlon” and the aforementioned prequel, “Swimming Lingo Demystified”.
OWS Lingo Demystified
WOWSA: This stands for World Open Water Swimming Association- WOWSA is the governing body of open water swimming.
Openwaterpedia: Yes, there is a wiki for open water swimming! From their website: “Openwaterpedia is a unique, comprehensive, multilingual online reference and research tool for the endurance sports, triathlon and aquatic community.”
You, yes, you, can have your very own Openwaterpedia page if you swim certain events!
Long Swim Database (LSD): The LongSwimsDB, or LSD, is “the world’s most comprehensive marathon swimming results repository”, and holds information regarding 460 established marathon swim events, a variety of solo swim routes, and results from over 28,000 swimmers across 142 countries (longswims.com). If you participate in a swim registered with LSD, your finish will become a part of OWS history!
Marathon/ultra-marathon swim: A “marathon swim” is a 10 kilometer (6.2 mile) swim in open water. Many athletes practice this using a 100 x 100 yard or meter (depending on the pool size) workout. These swims take a few hours and lots of practice to prepare for! An ultramarathon swim would be anything longer than 6.2 miles. The most common distance after a 10km is generally an 8 mile swim. Consider that the 50km of OWS. However, most swimmers would simply call themselves “marathon swimmers” and not use “ultra”.
Triple Crown: The Triple Crown of marathon OWS is three swims- the 20 Bridges Swim around Manhattan, the English Channel Swim, and the Catalina Channel Swim. Only 269 people have completed all three, and even finishing one is a huge accomplishment.
Oceans Seven: This is the swimming equivalent of the Seven Summits Challenge in Mountaineering. Oceans Seven includes the English Channel and Catalina Channel swims plus the North Channel between Ireland and Scotland; the Cook Strait between New Zealand’s North and South Islands; The Moloka’i Channel between Moloka’i and O’ahu; and the Strait of Gibraltar between Spain and Morocco; and the Tsugaru Strait between the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido.
Yacker: Short for “kayaker”, a yacker is your support crew in a long open water swim. Similar to ultra running where you select your own pacers and crew, open water swimmers generally select their yacker. Race directors may also help match a swimmer with a kayaker. They hold your fuel, water, and make sure you’re safe and on pace. There will be kayakers that are general support. In longer OWS, a yacker is generally a 1:1 ratio.
Observer: An observer is an official in open water swimming- they check not only on your distance and time, but ensure that you are following the rules and will complete & submit an official Observer Report to authorize the completion of your swim.
Feeding: This is the word that open water swimmers use instead of “fueling” or “nutrition”. For marathon or ultra-marathon swimming, you either will have your fuel in a buoy or with your kayaker/observer.
These definitions are not exhaustive, but will give you a good start. Understanding these terms may inspire you to find a new challenge if you have an interest in long-distance swimming.