Many of us are parents of kids who access open water frequently for their preferred sport. We can often feel very anxious, especially while they are learning a new skill for the first time. In this blog we wanted to explore how Tekrapod could help alleviate some of the anxiety for us as parents, but also for our kids. The ultimate goal is to provide as safe an environment for our kids to grow and learn as we can. While we can’t eliminate all of the safety issues, we certainly can mitigate many of them, without having to resort to a full blown “Childs Life Vest”, which is impossible for swimming based sports. So, if your child is involved in Surf Life Saving, Triathlon, Surfing or Open Water Swimming, read on and let’s see if there are some possible solutions through the appropriate use of a Tekrapod open water safety device.
Surf Lifesaving uses a variety of different equipment which requires jumping or sometimes falling off and on surf skis and rescue boards. Then there’s the swimming and sighting around marker buoys and the rescuing of a fellow swimmer, etc etc. This not only requires a high degree of athleticism but also a high degree of unimpeded freedom of movement. They train hard and long for these events and coaches are sometimes looking after a plethora of kids of varying abilities, ages and experience. Experienced coaches are excellent at juggling all these balls and thankfully they are rarely dropped.
In Triathlon, one of the biggest obstacles to kids taking up the sport is the swim portion, unless you are with a swimming club from a young age. It can be quite daunting for experienced young swimmers at the start of a race not to mind those who are new to swimming. To be now thrust into an open body of water with no visible bottom, no sides, no lane ropes to help orientate them can certainly cause great anxiety. Open water swimming is a skill that needs to be learned and honed over time. A key feature of open water swimming is confidence and anxiety management, even for the most competent pool swimmers. This can only be achieved through open water swimming, pools just won’t cut it.
For open water swimming you need to learn to swim in a straight line without the lane ropes or a lined pool bottom to guide you. You need to be able to sight effectively. Your first foray into open water can be like skiing in flat light; on a sunny day your skiing is excellent (just like a pool), but then the light becomes flat and there is no longer slope definition, you lose all control (the sea). In open water swimming it’s a real (learned) skill to stay orientated when everything around you is moving, you have no reference point to stabilize you, no pool bottom. Eventually you’ll get used to it, but it does take time and good sighting is key. But again, it has to be practiced in open water.
With Surfing, it takes a lot of time and effort to learn to even stand up on a board for short periods, you spend most of your first weeks falling off the board and clambering to get back up while being pummeled by wave after wave, it’s invigorating but tiring, and can often leave you winded.
So how can our kids undertake these sports, especially in their formative years safely? How can they undertake the hours of training necessary to hone these skills and reduce the risks posed by open water? Is it possible for kids to access open water safely and to be able to be spotted quickly by support staff or coaches if something goes wrong? In recent times we have seen the advent of swim safety devices that are sometimes called tow buoys, tow floats, swim safety buoys or PFD’s . The list of names is endless but in simple terms they’re generally a ball of air tied to your waist with a lanyard or leash, they are not very visible owing to their shape, nor are they very hydrodynamic but in fairness they are always there and have their benefits when used appropriately.
In surf lifesaving it’s very difficult for kids to use a tow float, depending on the event they are training for. Jumping on and off a rescue board would be very difficult and the possibility of entanglement between the tow float leash and the components of a surf ski could pose more safety issues than a tow buoy would resolve. Swimming through surf with a tow float is cumbersome and unnecessarily impedes the swimmers progress. Because they are always inflated and attached at the waist with a lanyard, they get caught in arms and legs at times when maneuverability is paramount for a winning an event.
In triathlon, it’s not possible to have multiple kids in the water using tow floats as it prevents the kids from sighting effectively. While they undoubtedly help coaches to keep an eye as to where their kids are in the water during training, it’s very difficult to identify if a kid is in trouble or just having a rest. In any case, come race day tow buoys are not legal and it’s important that kids learn to feel comfortable in the water without their towed safety device. Again, there is also the risk of entanglement of two tow buoy lanyards with each other, so long as the kids remain calm, this isn’t an issue but if not then it can be very different.
In open water swimming races, where effective sighting is a key requirement it’s not a good idea to have lots tow floats obscuring your sight line, let alone the confusion as to what you are sighting onto. I remember in my first Triathlon race sighting onto a swan and heading off in the wrong direction (albeit for a short while) until I figured it out (d’oh!). Again, it’s difficult for coaches to figure out who’s in trouble, little fists attached to short arms raised in the air are often hard to see and tow floats are not designed to be waved for attention.
For surfers, it’s hard to surf effectively with a tow float, when you are just about to jump up to catch a wave, odds are your tow buoy leash will have snagged in your foot and down you go. After a wipeout, what are the chances that your tow buoy lanyard will get caught in your surf board leash? Being able to dive under waves is an essential skill in paddling out against big surf, again something that’s virtually impossible to do while wearing a tow float.
In most, if not all of the above instances, a Tekrapod can solve these issues. Because it stays deflated in a back pack until you need it, there is no lanyard to get snagged in surf skis, surf board leashes or with other swimmers tow floats. Its hydrodynamic design keeps it snug to your back, you can dive into surf without even noticing it’s there. Because its so hydrodynamic, it doesn’t affect your swim stroke or maneuverability in the water. You can wear it and forget about it until you need it, it’s really that seamless!
If a young swimmers does get in difficulty or feels anxious, activating the internal bladder sends a clear and immediate signal to coaches and on-lookers that there is a problem and attention is needed. This is far more effective than a small raised fist clad in a black wet suit. Additionally Tekrapod has a very buoyant bladder to hold onto while help arrives. Equally it can be used to help another swimmer and has a buddy loop and detachable lanyard, just in case.
Because it remains deflated, it doesn’t affect other swimmers sight lines and come race day, because its neutrally buoyant, it is race legal. That means your child can race the way they train, safe in the knowledge that your kid will always have a backup plan and will be easily seen amongst the mass of other competitors if they get into difficulty. Similarly, when a group of swimmers are out swimming, if they are all wearing a Tekrapod and one gets into difficulty resulting in an activation, it sends a clear signal to the other swimmers that there is a problem and it requires attention. Tow buoys can’t signal distress in the same way a Tekrapod can, because they are always inflated their status never changes.
Tekrapod often gets compared with tow floats, but in fact it’s quite a different safety device. Tekrapods are “active” and not “passive” like a tow float. The only reason for having a constantly inflated swim safety device with you is to signal your presence to other water users such as boats, kite surfers, jet skis etc. Our advice is simple, if the water is being trafficked by such vehicles don’t go there, no device is going to save you from being struck by a fast moving vessel. But if like the rest of us, you are sometimes confronted (despite your best intentions) by a boat or Jet ski, simply activate your Tekrapod, wave it at them to notify them of your presence and swim on towing it behind you. A Tekrapods’ inflated bladder is far more visible than a conventional tow float because of the material it’s made from and its elongated shape.
Finally, for some kids, tow floats or other inflated swim safety devices just aren’t cool. Here at Tekrapod we take two approaches to this, firstly you can buy a Tekrapod that is understated and barely noticeable to wear or secondly buy one that’s customized with your specific design or club logo and let it tell people who you are and what you’re about. It can be an extension of your child’s personality. In this way making safety devices cool means that kids will want to wear them, feel they are part of a team. This is far better than an open water safety device like a tow buoy that they would rather forget to pack!
As always, while we advocate for the use of Tekrapods, we really want everyone to be safe, so whatever you choose for your child, choose some safety device. In years to come we will look back, just as we did with bike helmets and gum shields and think; how were we so stupid for so long?
Tekrapod is a company specializing in Open Water Swimming Safety devices, also known as Tow Floats or Swim Safety Buoys. We produce regular articles on the appropriate use of Open Water Safety Devices, children’s water safety and sports connected to open water swimming, such as Triathlons, Stand Up Paddle boarding and Surf Life Saving.
John Hanley is the founder and Managing Director of Tekrapod. You can connect with John through the website www.tekrapod.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.