Friday, February 13, 2009

Drafting and heel wafting ... Is that wrong?

I’m not sure if this is an etiquette question or good idea.

I rocked up to Bondi last Sunday with hardly any training under my belt and found a well-proportioned man to sit behind through most of the swim. Sitting in his wake, I had an easy swim but the fact that he must’ve felt someone playing with his tootsies the whole way played uneasily on my mind. I felt most grateful for his slow, steady cadence and particularly the fact that he powered around the buoys.

I tried to find him after the swim and thank him for the ride... if you’re out there, you were wearing red budgy smugglers... thank you!... But was it annoying feeling my fingertips on the soles of your feet, or was it too cold to feel anything? :)

My question for the experts is, where is the best place to sit – behind or alongside the man displacing water for you – and what is the etiquette around drafting in a swim race?


Tamsin Pike


  1. The drafting is not so bad as the touching of the feet - its SO ANNOYING. Its also dangerous since if you piss the person in front of you off enough they only have to slow down a little and you would swim slightly on top of them, and bang, next thing you know you have a foot in your face. I wouldn't apologise to you if it was my foot connecting with your face.

    I really think the easiest, and safest place to draft is tucked in to the side of someone, that is if you really have to do it at all.

    It is a different kettle of fish however, if you are actually racing up the front of the pack, then its about strategy and they are all experienced in drafting technique.

  2. I reckon I might have been yer man Tamsin. A 43 year old solid sorta bloke, red speedos, not particularly quick but constant, with a penchant for getting around the buoys as quick as poss; doing a bit of a double dolphin kick and an arched back flick around the cans, keeping my head pretty well up to avoid any kicks in the face; and woe betide anyone who should try on any breast stroke in front of me lest I should swim straight over em, or accross them as often is the case; never grabbing hold or deliberately pushing their head under water or anything like that though.

    Yes, I did feel a fair bit of finger tip action on the soles of my feet but I'm not that ticklish any more after having kids.

    No, I don't really mind heel wafting, it's hardly an infringement of my civil liberties or anything. I dunno why people carry on like it's such a travesty of etiquette. If anything I might even get a little push along out of it. Although if anyone should grab my ankle I might get a little upset.

    I'm not really a wafter myself. I prefer clear undisturbed open water and being able to see further than a foot in front of me through the bubbles, and to chart my own course rather than rely on the often flawed navigation of those in front of me.

    You've got to be careful wafting coz sometimes swimmers will pull up and do a spot of breast stroke at any stage of the course, not just at the buoys. It may be just to defog or reseat their leaking goggles, or get a quick bearing, but you could quite accidentally end up with a foot square in the face or head.

    I'm not one to do that but it happened to me when I was overtaking a girl at fairly close quarters on the back stretch of The Roughy coming into the Icebergs from McKenzies. She was immediately apologetic, which I graciously accepted, but it hurt like hell all the same. And I know of others who've copped it like that too.

    Kind regards,


  3. Drafting is unfair. Why? Because the swimmer at the front does all the work and the person sitting on his/her tail does much less. This is hardly something that should be supported.

    Heel tapping is rude and inappropriate. I have no hesitation in kicking heel tappers in the mug for persistent tapping infringements.

    Tamsin: get fit and swim the event under your own steam. If you have to rely on someone else to pull you along, you shouldn't be out there in the first place.

  4. Gee, a little harsh don't you think.

    Neither the drafter nor draftee seemed to be that worried about it

    Maybe if you can't get into the friendly spirit of ocean swimming YOU shouldn't be out there in the first place.

    The NSW swimming champs are this weekend....see how you go.Or would you just rather hang out with the weekend warriors?


  5. Given the number of participants in many swims these days, the odd 'heel tap' and bump is nigh on impossible to avoid and I'd reckon most reasonable people consider this as part and parcel of ocean swimming as long as it's done with good humour and a bit of common courtesy.

    Special shout out to the lady who stopped and and asked if I was OK whilst quickly defogging \ cleaning my googles past the 1st buoy at Bondi last Sunday ... a nice, if rather un-expected gesture.

    I do however agree that someone who drafts behind another swimmer and is then rude enough to consitently 'heel tap' them is well out of order !!

    The ocean is pretty big place and If you want to swim around another swimmer, I find it hard to work out why some people don't just make an effort to move either two feet left or right and swim right on by !!. I quite understand why the elites\ open group's engage in drafting et al, but for the vast majority of swimmers there's just no need to draft or consitently bump and batter ther way through the throng. I wonder if those same people would engage in the same kinda behaviour in thier local pool.

    My advice for those that intentionally swim over fellow simmers or 'get shirty' with others as they go around the cans (breast strokers not withstanding) register in the Elite \ Open groups and see how you go !!

    Give me a bit space, freedom and a bunch of smiley swimmers anyday.

  6. Tamsin can draft off me anytime.
    You wouldn't draft off him anyway. He's even slower in body than mind.
    I hope you kick the wrong person some day you boofhead.

  7. Dear Mr Eccles (thefamouseccles) or whatever your real name is.

    You have been violating Mr Banberry's code-see points below

    7 - Do not deliberately hinder others in the swim by blocking or kicking

    9 - Do not be overtly aggressive and do not interfere with other swimmers

    How would you like me to be overtly aggressive with you at the next swim?

    Hilda (City Tatts)

  8. I dont mind the drafting but the toe tapping drives me insane and if it happened to me I would try and kick furiously until the person got the message and moved back. Touching heels cant be good for your stroke anyway, get back 6 inches and enjoy the ride, odds are the person in front wont even know you're there. On a different note however what I did find rude and really pissed me off was the 40+ woman who boxed 2 of us in on the approach to a buoy to the extent that the inside swimmer had to duck dive under the bouy to survive and me, piggy in the middle, stopped in my tracks and decided to slow down to get out of the road. Please have the awareness to look out for your fellow swimmers and not cause chaos.

  9. ok, here are the conditions of drafting....

    1. They tow you around the course but you DO NOT sprint to beat them up the beach, under no circumstance is your time to be faster than theirs. The only reason you sat there in the first place is because you wanted to beat another competitor in the race, not the person who towed you around the course. In this situation you were lucky enough to get some ‘good feet’;

    2. You make a deal with them at the end to 'pay them back' when you are in a fitter and faster state;

    3. If you are lucky enough to win a prize in your age group, all prizes are considered yours ....unless of course you are feeling grateful to that person who allowed you to swim at 80% the whole way because they were on the front doing all of the work.

    Anything outside of these conditions is un-Australian!

    NB: Mr Eccles you’ve had a shocker, we aren’t swimming at the Olympics.

  10. You can go swim in the pool too...drafting is fair,fun,strategic and sensible. Only poor swimmers get hung up on drafting ...embrace competition and don't be big babies about it....
    It's actually un-Australian to be a big sook.

    Michael C

  11. I've been around long enough to know that the most enjoyable swims are those where competitors swim their own race and leave other people to do likewise. Sure, there are times where it's impossible not to come into contact with others e.g. when rounding a booey or if approaching a slower swimmer from an earlier wave, but for the most part persistent heel tapping or drafting are unnecessary.

    Hilda: reread my words, please. Swimmers who engage in persistent heel tapping or drafting are the ones who are violating points 7 & 9 of the Bamberry code. I did not say that I did either of these things, only that I would respond to such actions if they were directed to my person. Perhaps you've never been exposed to either of these situations.

    Insofar as the drafter and draftee making deals to split the rewards is concerned: a great idea in theory but I don't think it would work in practice. Especially when there is only one trip to Fiji at stake.

    No, we're not swimming at the Olympics, but fair play should prevail nevertheless. Drafting is not fair play.

  12. Obviously you don't swim at the front of the pack. As a precedent drafting is banned at the elite level, the only reason it isn't banned at amateur level is because its too difficult to police.....which is why if you are going to draft (to be Australian about it) you could choose to do it with a bit of integrity.....see above points.

  13. I can understand how those at the very front might be pissed off about someone hitching a lift on their heels, but if you can keep up with those at the very front, you don't really need to draft do you.

    For those of us in the great unwashed masses in the middle and back, drafting isn't always the brightest move and should be at your own risk.

    You're welcome to draft off me, but the view won't be the best, and there's no guarantee I'll be going in the right direction or that I won't stop abruptly for a spot of booeey-searching breast-stroke!

  14. I've only had it happen once and boy it was annoying. I didn't mind the drafting, that's the other person's look out if they want to bump up their time artificially. The heel tapping was really distracting and rude. I tried to swim away from the muppet doing it to me, but they just followed me. In retrospect I should have said something.

  15. "Obviously you don't swim at the front of the pack. As a precedent drafting is banned at the elite level,

    Another moron who thinks they know the rules but doesn't.......go read the rules

    Sharon Walker

  16. I'm a very average swimmer, but I see drafting as part of the interest of oceanswimming. Should I run up to the weak rip and navigate a straight path on my own, or do I try my luck inside a slightly-off-course middle of the pack? Brains is just as much a part of a swim as raw fitness and stroke.

    Having said that, I think that any more than two or three accidental taps to the feet is inappropriate. I don't mind people drafting behind me, but aside from the inevitable crush around the buoys, tapping on the feet is unsettling and distracting. "What do they want?" "Are they trying to get past me?" "Did I accidentally do something to them at the last buoy?".

  17. We take offense to that Graeme!

    Miss Piggy, Kermit, Fozzie Bear & Gonzo

  18. One word - Strategy. Its one thing to draft strategically (perhaps mid race to conserve energy) but not the whole race. Just my 2c

  19. Well, this seems pretty clear cut. I didn't really have a strong opinion one way or the other about drafting but it's obvious from the above that some people really hate it, mainly because of the irritation of being constantly tapped on the feet. So: if you are far back enough that the swimmer in front doesn't know about it - hard to see what harm it does. If you are close enough to touch then there is a decent chance you are going to make another swimmer unhappy and spoil the swim for them.

    Is your time important enough to you that this seems reasonable? I accept that for a tiny minority at the very pointy end of the field the answer may be yes, but for the rest of us mug punters it must clearly be 'no'.

    In any case the advantages are probably not that great. I can see a benefit in following someone so you don't have to keep looking up (provided they know where they are going!) but I doubt the physics stack up nearly as much here as they do in (say) cycling. In cycling there is a smooth, almost laminar, flow of air coming back from the cyclist ahead. Get yourself inside that and you are not having to beat against the air ahead, it just slips past and there are clear gains in efficiency to be had. In swimming, the person in front of you is constantly kicking and must be breaking up anything like a laminar flow of water which may be coming from them, so you are swimming into turbulent water. It may even be worse than swimming in clear water from an efficiency point of view. Maybe if you swam behind a really strong breast-stroker it would work - but nobody wants to do that, right guys?

    In short: it probably doesn't really help much and you run the risk of ruining someone else's day. Pretty obvious what the right answer is.



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