Tips for Swim Starts and Buoys

The slowest parts of a triathlon swim leg are at the swim start and at the turn buoys (or “cans” in Aussie). That’s the part where you’re most prone to being swum over, dunked, punched, and involved in a brawl. Don’t be a victim! In this video taken at Thanyapura Supercamp, Macca and Ben educate the camp participants on tackling buoys and swim starts:


Macca: The key to swimming around a swim buoy is, usually you’re coming up and lots and lots of people around. It’s the most anxious part of the race, it’s where you’re most vulnerable — the start, where you’re vulnerable and coming around the buoy, you’re looking up and your legs start to sink. People behind you start pushing your feet down. So the worst thing you could possibly do is make yourself vulnerable, so as you come to a buoy you start kicking and bring your feet to the surface.

This is pretty much a swim bunch. If you start lifting your head, your feet sink. Your feet sink, I can come on the back of you, push you down. You know? So if your feet are up, I’m back here, I can’t touch you, I’m gonna get kicked. So always bring your feet to the surface. If you don’t, you’re screwed. Don’t be a victim, I say.

So just prior to the buoy, kick. As you come to the buoy keep your left arm extended and take two strokes with your right…

(Ben demonstrates.)

Macca: You always kick into the buoy, you kick out of the buoy. So if you don’t kick at all, the only time you want to kick in the race is that section here.

The biggest mistake you can make is you see the buoy out here, you start kicking [too far away from the buoy]… This is the place where you’re gonna get hit the most.

Ben: Quick question. Has anyone ever swum around a buoy like this? (Breaststrokes around the buoy.) Tim, jump in the water.

Macca: Show him what happens when you do that.

(Tim breaststrokes around the buoy and Ben swims over him and dunks him.)

Macca: The minute he stops, his feet sink. Your bum’s down, once your bum is down, people move closer to you. So I can get on top of you. That is where you do not want to be.

So it’s the same at the start of a race. Most people start a race like Ben is right now.

(Ben is treading water, with his body vertical.)

Macca: Deep water start. So the person behind you is right up behind you. The best position to start a race is that. (Points at Tim.)

(Tim is nearly horizontal on his belly, his arms sculling to keep his head above water and his feet flutter kicking behind him.)

Macca: Otherwise, if you’re not, you’re standing up like most people like that, they’re right there behind you. Ready, go! It’s just natural to grab.

The slowest parts of a race are the start and the swim buoys. The slowest parts of a race are where you’re most likely to get hit. Most or a lot of the beginners, they struggle. In the camps we’ve held around the world, people tell me this is always a major anxiety point, coming to a swim buoy, and the anxiety really is your fear of getting hit. So learning how to go around the swim buoy is one thing, knowing what to do when you come to the swim buoy… all you need to think is “Feet on the surface.” When your feet are on the surface, it is so difficult to push someone down who’s floating like this [on his belly] than someone [floating vertical]. When you breaststroke, you’re basically vertical in the water. Feet on the surface.

Noelle De Guzman
Noelle De Guzman
Noelle De Guzman is a freelance writer with ten years of experience in the field of fitness and wellness. She blogs at about endurance sport in the Philippines and beyond.