The ‘nub’ issue for many athletes is “why should I spend the extra on a Tekrapod when I can buy a cheaper mass produced plastic tow float that does the job for half the cost?”
I’ll deal with the issue as we see it at Tekrapod under three main headings of safety, freedom and race day. But just to be absolutely clear before we commence, while we advocate the use of a Tekrapod, we really want you to be safe no matter what, so please whatever you decide, always use a personal swim safety device of some sort and always swim in a group. Tell someone where you are going, for how long and never ever swim where the water is being trafficked by fast moving water vehicles.
Maybe living on the West Coast of Ireland on the “Wild Atlantic Way” gives you a better insight into water safety. Seeing how changeable the Atlantic can become in such a short time period gives you a certain perspective and respect for the sea. I grew up around water and drownings were almost a fact of everyday life, so as a family we were always taught to respect the sea, rivers and lakes.
The proliferation of open water swimming has been massive in the UK and Ireland in recent years, we have seen it grow 10-fold in as many years. It’s a difficult sport to get facts and figures on, but you only need to attend the local swimming beaches to see how popular it has become. Triathlon, surf lifesaving, surfing and more recently stand-up paddle boarding are becoming more and more popular.
The same could be said for cycling in terms of growth in popularity, however road safety is far more advanced than water safety, especially in comparison to swimmers or amateur or recreational water users. For example, in Ireland in 2018, 9 cyclists were killed on our roads in comparison to 68 accidental drownings. In the EU in 2016 there were 2,015 cyclists killed in comparison to 5,537 accidental drownings. Yet our TVs are full of road safety announcements and adverts relating to cyclists, advising you to wear helmets, lights and reflective clothing. Yet, you would be very lucky to see one announcement regarding water safety here in Ireland, I can’t comment on the rest of Europe or the UK, but I’m sure its similar.
In any of the Triathlon or cycling clubs that I have been involved with over the years, it is completely unacceptable (and has been for many years) to turn up at a cycling event without a helmet. More recently the move has been to wear bright reflective clothing and lights front and back, even in broad daylight. But this hasn’t been the case with open water swimming, it’s still acceptable for people to swim alone, in dark wetsuits without any form of personal swim safety device.
So why is there such a difference when it comes to water safety? Well here at Tekrapod we think it’s mainly down to custom and practice, but there is also an element of ‘bravado’. This is particularly true of skins swimmers who seem to be the least likely to wear a personal swim safety device of some sort yet are the most vulnerable. I have no hard evidence of this, just my personal observation.
Quite simply, if you swim in skins, whether you are in a group of swimmers or not, if you get in trouble and you are 400m from shore, there is very little people can do for you unless they are very experienced (most likely lifeguards) and trained to deal with someone who is drowning and perhaps are themselves wearing a safety device which they can use to assist you.
I had the pleasure of talking to Chris Hill at Spinlock last year and he succinctly summed it up when he said, “people see safety devices as badges of their own incompetence.” How absolutely true this is, if I’m wearing a Tekrapod or a swim buoy, I must be a poor swimmer. We desperately need to change that mindset.
So how can a Tekrapod help in the above scenario? We think it will help in many ways:
Firstly, Tekrapod is designed to be seamless, after you put it on and adjust it correctly, you’ll simply forget your wearing it, wetsuit or not. This makes it more likely that swimmers will want to use it time and time again. No one wants to be constantly reminded that they are towing a floatation device behind them, it detracts from the whole sense of freedom you get from open water swimming.
Tekrapod remains deflated until you need it. This has two advantages. If you have ever watched or marshalled a race from a kayak where lots of swimmers are allowed to use tow buoys, it’s almost impossible to tell who’s in trouble or who’s just taking a rest. It’s just a sea filled with swim caps and tow buoys, it’s very confusing. Equally, if you are swimming with your friends and you all have tow buoys, how do you know who’s in difficulty or who’s just taking a break? With a Tekrapod there is no doubt about the status of your buddy, if they have activated their Tekrapod there’s a reason and as a swim buddy you need to find out! Tow buoys can’t do this, they are always inflated and give no real indication as to the user’s real status. Constantly inflated tow floats are like car alarms that are always going off, after a while you just switch off and ignore them, just like “the Buoy who Cried Wolf”.
Tekrapods are long, elongated tubes which are 72cm long or 3ft and are made from a very reflective material. When you wave your Tekrapod, you can elevate your effective height in the water from 15cm (6”) to well over a meter depending on the length of your arms, on-lookers or your swim buddies will be able to see you above swells, waves and chop. Again, something a tow buoy can’t do. In addition we give you a whistle.
The internal bladder in your Tekrapod is designed so that you can detach it from your backpack and safely hand it to another swimmer who is in difficulty. This is really important if you are going to assist another swimmer who is in difficulty. You can keep your distance and still help, without endangering your own life. Simply extend the bladder out toward the other swimmer allowing them to grasp the buddy loop and then release the bladder from your Tekrapod using the detachable clip. This allows you to keep your distance, it calms the swimmer down and allows you time to think and to get help.
You can also use it in its most intuitive and intended sense, simply rest on it until the issue passes, catch your breath, or wait until someone comes to your assistance. Having a safety device with you, especially as you become more experienced, is a great stress reliever. Just knowing that you have a back up plan greatly reduces anxiety and allows you to concentrate on your rhythm, breathing and body position, all of which helps you relax, swim more efficiently and enjoy all the health benefits of open water swimming.
What about presence in the water? Lots of people point out to me that the backpack is black and should be brightly coloured so that people can see you in the water. My response to this is simple. Would you dream of telling anyone that if they wear a hi-vis vest that it’s safe to cycle on a motorway, the answer is a really simple “NO”. We say to all our followers, if there is not a clear delineation between swimmers and boats, then it is not safe to swim there. A fast-moving jet ski, kite surfer or wind surfer can lose sight of you very quickly or not see you at all because their sail is in the way. No amount of visibility will help in these instances and to tell you otherwise would be simply untrue.
If you ever find yourself in a scenario where there are fast moving boats, jet skis or wind surfers in the area of water you intend to swim in, my advice is; don’t go there! No safety device is going to stop a boat strike and serious injury. However, if you do find yourself suddenly and unexpectedly confronted with fast moving water vehicles, then simply activate your Tekrapod and tow it behind you as you would a tow float. The Tekrapod’s bladder is much brighter and longer than most tow floats and therefore far more visible. In addition, if a fast moving boat or jet ski is approaching, simply activate your Tekrapod and wave your bladder in their direction until you get their attention, leaving them in no doubt as to your presence.
Finally, in most swim races and Triathlons, tow buoys are not allowed. If, like so many people, you have spent the summers training with the comfort of a tow buoy, what do you do on race day, when anxiety is heightened, and you now have to swim in a pack with maybe as many as 2,500 swimmers? In this instance the only device to use is a Tekrapod, because it remains deflated until you need it and is neutrally buoyant, it’s also race legal. But please check with your race director regarding its use, not everyone is fully up to date on the rules of individual races.
In summary we believe there are many benefits to using a Tekrapod over a tow float, but if I was to pick one major difference it’s this, Tekrapod is an active personal swim safety device that stays out of the way until you need it, once it’s activated, its brightly coloured elongated tube sends a clear message to fellow swimmers and on lookers that you have a problem and you need attention, it never cries wolf!