DNOWS Header

Image Map

Saturday, September 15, 2012

If The Claw Appears, It Is Time To Get Out

Most open water swimmers are tough. Many are tough and courageous. Some are tough, courageous and fanatical. A special few go way beyond those parameters.

These athletes can enter a realm where the physical discomfort is completely ignored and they can literally will their bodies beyond excruciating pain.

It is a type of swimming that Skip Storch calls "survival swimming".

"When a marathon swimmers enters the outer limits of their swimming endurance and pushes their abilities, they become a survival swimmer. That is, they are swimming ineffectively and are swimming to survive. In most instances, survival swimming is a prelude to the swim being terminated."

But this very small fraternity of humans who can transform themselves into a survival swimmer push forward when other swimmers would have ended the ordeal much earlier.

Storch understands the inherent risk of going to the outer limits of human endurance. "If one becomes a survival swimmer, both the crew and the swimmer must be on full alert and understand the dangers involved. All decisions must be made by an experienced crew without being overruled by the swimmer. Additionally, the swimmer must be able to alter their stroke and breathing patterns. They must take longer and more frequent breaks, occasionally taking different strokes and kicks. They need to make sure not to fatigue, exhaust or injure their muscles while refueling."

One indication that a swimmer has entered the survival mode is when they start fisting in the water while they swim. Fisting is when the swimmer's hands become so cold that their hands start to involuntarily close up into a fist. The swimmer's hand naturally does this to help maintain circulation. Often the fisting is one indication that the swimmer has gone too far and can be occasionally accompanied by a blueness on the skin in other areas of the body. An inability to grip the water bottle is another easy indication of extreme physiological stress. The "claw" is sometimes another term used for this condition.

There is a time to swim and there is a time to pull a swimmer. It is our belief that when a swimmer's stroke count has slowed beyond 10% of their normal pace and fisting or the "claw" becomes the norm, they must be watched very carefully and frequently stopped to check their mental acuity by asking simple questions (e.g., what is your postal code? what are your children's birth dates? where did you first learn to drive? what was your best subject in school? what is the model of your car?). If the swimmer must pause and think about the answer or cannot answer the question at all, it is time to call it a day in our opinion.

Copyright © 2012 by Open Water Source


  1. The Claw isn't a fist. With The Claw, (which term I think has originated and spread out from the Sandycove swimmers in Ireland to elsewhere), all fine motor control is lost and the fingers spread apart, and the swimmer in unable to close them. The tendons contract due to impaired peripheral blood flow and the fingers bend slightly, like a person imitating a cat's claw-strike. For those used to cold water, appearance of the Claw is normal, and only experience by the swimmer can tracks its progression from mild to the state at which it indicates immediate water evacuation is required. However it is not a useful external visible indicator.

    With worst case Claw, when I was in my most hypothermic state, I was still able to hold a feed bottle. Also, as experience progresses some swimmers report incidence of Claw decreases, but all other hypothermic warning signs are still relevant. I say this because it's important to be accurate about cold and not rely too closely on formulaic solutions or warnings. A 5% stroke rate decrease is sufficient for many swimmers to be pulled, depending on their past experience and 10% is probably the outside range by which the swimmer is already in Moderate (dangerous but recoverable) hypothermia.

  2. We understand various terms like the Claw (or the Grip) have been bandied about by swimmers since at least the 1970s. But these terms probably were used much earlier by the previous generations of cold water swimmers, from South Africa to China in various languages.

    With all due respect, we do believe that the fingers moving in grosteque directions is ONE useful external visible indicator of hypothermia for many swimmers. The Irish swimmers are best prepared for cold water swimming due to year-round cold-water conditions. While Sandycove swimmers experience the Claw as a normal physiological reaction, there are many other swimmers around the world who do not regularly experience this in their own open water training. At the world championships for example, there are usually swimmers from 45+ countries. Even in mid-winter, the water temperature in many of these countries does not fall to the level of the Irish seas in mid-summer. Therefore, it is difficult to be prepared for cold-water swimming like swimmers can do in Ireland. It is not that these swimmers are weak or not committed to preparation or acclimatization, it is simply that they live and train in locations where the water does not drop below 10 or 15 or sometimes 20 degrees C year-round. [Note: the reverse is usually true when Irish swimmers go to warm-water competitions where the water is above 25 degrees C.] But when these non-Irish swimmers start to display the Claw during their swims, we believe that more-than-usual care should be taken by their coach and crew.

    While you mention a 5% stroke rate decrease is sufficient for many swimmers to be pulled, we believe this is a bit premature. At a 70 spm rate, this means that swimmers are pulled when their stroke rate falls to 66-67. This decrease may be due to tiredness or boredom or a lack of focus at times. At a 10% decrease (i.e., 63-64 spm in the above case), then the suggested guideline really comes into play in our opinion.

    While you do not advocate relying on formulaic solutions or warnings, we believe these percentages are helpful guidelines and they have been used for decades by experienced individuals including those who coached English Channel record holders in the 1960s and 1970s. It is important to establish guidelines because we hear of swimmers and coaches who continue the swim despite spm decreases of much higher percentages (e.g., from high 70s to low 50s). Again, guidelines are also useful and meant to provide general assistance in combination with other factors (e.g., kicking rate, mental acuity, air temperature, water conditions, experience/age/general condition of the swimmer). Ned Denison, along with a number of other renowned English Channel swimmers, will speak to these issues at the Open Water Swimming Safety Panels at the 2012 Global Open Water Swimming Championships in Long Beach, California this coming week.

    Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the swimmer to know their own limitations and normal physiological reactions to extreme conditions (both warm and cold). It is also the responsibility of the coach to know the limitations and abilities of their swimmers and to have the knowledge, ability and authority to pull their swimmers.

    We understand that there are swimmers in the marathon community who do not wish to be pulled until the very end. There are swimmers who believe it is their own decision and right to determine how far they should be able to swim. They do not want to pulled unless the last possible moment. These are individual decisions that fall outside the general guidelines that we advocate.

    Whatever is decided collectively by the Sandycove swimmers is best for your community of swimmers. The information included in the article above is the information shared with open water swimming coaches in warmer climates; most of whom coach athletes who do not benefit from year-round cold-water training in a venue like Sandycove.


Thank you very much for your interest in the world of open water swimming.

The Staff of the World Open Water Swimming Association

2014 Global Open Water Swimming Conference

Learn more...
Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

2014 Global Open Water Swimming Conference Agenda

Friday, 19 September



Welcome Reception at Mount Stuart House, Isle of Bute, Scotland

Documentary films shown throughout the reception:

Blue Journey-Amerika Samoa – Stronger Together: The Waterman’s Way
(film by Bruckner Chase)

Dancing With The Water, Crossing of Lake Pontchartrain
(film by Wayne Ewing about Matthew Moseley's Lake Pontchartrain crossing)

Bering Strait Swim Chukotka - Alaska
(film by Admiral Konstantin Sidenko about the relay between Russia and Alaska)

The Clean Swim – Hong Kong to Macau
(film about Simon Holiday's Pearl River Delta crossing)

Saturday, 20 September



Registration and Coffee at Mount Stuart House, Isle of Bute, Scotland



Keynote Speech:
Colleen Blair (Scotland) on The History of Scottish Swimming



Christopher Guesdon (Australia) on Multidimensional Roles In The Sport



Colin Hill (England) on Recent Explosion in UK Open Water



Shelley Taylor-Smith (Australia) on The Feminine Code of Achievement - How a Lady from Down Under Revolutionized Professional Marathon Swimming



Simon Murie (England) on Open Water Swimming Holidays: How A New Sector Was Created Within The Travel Industry



Swimming The Oceans Seven
A round table discussion moderated by:
Kevin Murphy (England), with Stephen Redmond (Ireland), Anna-Carin Nordin (Sweden),
Darren Miller (USA), Adam Walker (England), Kimberley Chambers (New Zealand)



Coffee and Break



World Open Water Swimming Awards Luncheon:
with co-hosts Shelley Taylor-Smith (Australia) and Steven Munatones (USA)

Pádraig Mallon (Ireland), 2013 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year

Olga Kozydub (Russia), 2013 World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year

Bering Strait Swim, 2013 World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year

Honoring: Vladimir Chegorin, Maria Chizhova, Elena Guseva, Ram Barkai, Jack Bright, Oksana Veklich, Aleksandr Jakovlevs, Matías Ola, Henri Kaarma, Toomas Haggi, Nuala Moore, Anne Marie Ward, Toks Viviers, Melissa O’Reilly, Ryan Stramrood, Cristian Vergara, Craig Lenning, Rafal Ziobro, Andrew Chin, Jackie Cobell, James Pittar, Paolo Chiarino, Mariia Yrjö-Koskinen, Ivan Papulshenko, Zdenek Tlamicha, Zhou Hanming, Oleg Adamov, Andrei Agarkov, Alekseev Semen, Tatiana Alexandrova, Roman Belan, Elena Semenova, Alexander Brylin, Afanasii Diackovskii, Vladimir Nefatov, Evgenii Dokuchaev, Oleg Docuckaev, Roman Efimov, Dmitrii Filitovich, Olga Filitovich, Victor Godlevskiy, Olga Golubeva, Alexei Golubkin, Alexander Golubkin, Alexandr Iurkov, Oleg Ivanov, Pavel Kabakov, Eduard Khodakovskiy, Aleksandr Komarov, Aleksandr Kuliapin, Andrey Kuzmin, Irina Lamkina, Vladimir Litvinov, Andrey Mikhalev, Victor Moskvin, Nikolay Petshak, Sergey Popov, Vladimir Poshivailov, Grigorii Prokopchuk, Dmitrii Zalka, Natalia Seraya, Viacheslav Shaposhnikov, Olga Sokolova, Andrei Sychev, Alexei Tabakov, and Nataliia Usachaeva [represented by Admiral Konstantin Sidenko and Nuala Moore]



Alexey Salmin Pavlovich (Russia) and Dmitry Dragozhilov (Russia)
on the 2016 Winter Swimming World Championships [film]



Sally Minty-Gravett (Jersey) on Motivating Swimmers



Dmitry Blokhin (Russia) and Aleksei Veller (Russia)
on the First World Ice Swimming Championships [film]



Matthew Moseley (USA)’s Dancing With The Water, Crossing of Lake Pontchartrain [film]



Simon Holliday (England) and Doug Woodring (Hong Kong)’s The Clean Swim – Hong Kong to Macau 2014 [film]



International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF)
and International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame (IMSHOF)

IMSHOF Induction Ceremonies and Dinner
with co-hosts Shelley Taylor-Smith (Australia) and Steven Munatones (USA).

Recognition of International Swimming Hall of Fame honorees:

  • Elizabeth Fry (USA), IMSHOF Honour Swimmer

  • Vojislav Mijić (Serbia), IMSHOF Honour Swimmer

  • James Anderson (USA), IMSHOF Honour Administrator

  • Dr. Jane Katz (USA), IMSHOF Honour Administrator

  • Indonesian Swimming Federation Open Water Committee (Indonesia), IMSHOF Honour Organisation

  • Melissa Cunningham (Australia), Irving Davids – Captain Roger Wheeler Award by the International Swimming Hall of Fame and IMSHOF Honour Swimmer

  • Sandra Bucha (USA), ISHOF Honor Open Water Swimmer and IMSHOF Honour Swimmer

  • Jon Erikson (USA), ISHOF Honor Open Water Swimmer and IMSHOF Honour Swimmer [represented by Sandra Bucha]



International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF) Introduction Video.
Welcome speech by host Shelley Taylor-Smith (Australia)






International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF)
Induction Ceremonies and Dinner with host Shelley Taylor-Smith (Australia)

Recognition of International Swimming Hall of Fame honorees:

  • Mercedes Gleitze (England)
    ISHOF Honor Pioneer Swimmer and IMSHOF Honour Swimmer
    [represented by daughter Doloranda Pember]

  • Dale Petranech (USA)
    ISHOF Honor Contributer and IMSHOF Honour Administrator

  • Claudio Plit (Argentina)
    ISHOF Honor Open Water Swimmer and IMSHOF Honour Swimmer
    [represented by Shelley Taylor-Smith]

  • Judith van Berkel-de Nijs (Netherlands)
    ISHOF Honor Open Water Swimmer and IMSHOF Honour Swimmer
    [represented by Niek Kloots]

  • George Young (Canada)
    ISHOF Honor Pioneer Swimmer and IMSHOF Honour Swimmer
    [represented by the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation]

  • David Yudovin (USA)
    ISHOF Honor Open Water Swimmer and IMSHOF Honour Swimmer

Sunday, 21 September



Registration and coffee at Mount Stuart House, Isle of Bute, Scotland



Nuala Moore (Ireland) on The Mindset of 1000m at 0ºC



Admiral Konstantin Sidenko (Russia)’s Bering Strait Swim Chukotka - Alaska in 2013 [film]



Ned Denison (Ireland) on Swimming The World



Bruckner Chase (USA)’s Blue Journey-Amerika Samoa
Stronger Together: The Waterman’s Way



Rok Kerin (Slovenia) on Lifestyle Benefits From Open Water Swimming



Survey distribution and group photo-taking



Swim at Stravvana Bay, Isle of Bute


The Global Open Water Swimming Conference is a conference on the sport of open water swimming, marathon swimming and swimming during triathlons and multi-sport endurance events.

The conference which has been attended by enthusiasts and luminaries from 6 continents, is devoted to providing information about the latest trends, race tactics, training techniques, equipment, psychological preparation, race organization and safety practices used in the sports of open water swimming, marathon swimming and triathlons.

The conference's mission is to provide opportunities to listen and meet many of the world's most foremost experts in open water swimming, and to meet and discuss the sport among swimmers, coaches, administrators, event organizers, sponsors, vendors, officials, escort pilots, and volunteers from kayakers to safety personnel.

Dozens of presentations at the 2014 Conference at the Mount Stuart House cover numerous aspects of the vast and growing world of open water swimming where attendees can learn and share the latest trends, race tactics, training modalities, swimming techniques, equipment, race organization, logistics, operations, and safety practices for open water swimming as a solo swimmer, competitive athlete, fitness swimmer, masters swimmer, triathlete, multi-sport athlete, administrator, race promoter, sponsor or referee.

The conference was first held in Long Beach, California as part of the 2010 USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming Championships. It has since been held on the Queen Mary in California, at Columbia University and the United Nations in New York City, and in Cork, Ireland. This year in September, it comes to another iconic location, the Mount Stuart House on the Isle of Bute in Scotland.

"The Global Open Water Swimming Conference was started due to the desire and need for athletes, coaches, referees, administrators, race directors, promoters and sponsors from around the world to share, collect and learn information about the growing sports of open water swimming, marathon swimming and triathlons," said founder Steven Munatones. "Other swimming conferences usually offering nothing on open water swimming or perhaps a speech or two, but we thought open water swimming deserves its own global conference. It is great that the community shares its information via the online social network, but there is nothing like meeting other open water swimming enthusiasts face-to-face and talking about the sport from morning to night."

Speakers at the conference include English Channel swimmers, ice swimmers, record holders, renowned coaches, world champions, professional marathon swimmers, renowned race directors, officials and administrators from the Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania.

"Because the audience is passionate and educated about the sport and its finest practitioners, the Global Open Water Swimming Conference is also the location of the induction ceremonies for the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame and the annual WOWSA Awards that recognize the World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year, the World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year, the World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year, and the World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year. Special Lifetime Achievement Awards are also occasionally presented to individuals who have made significant contributions to the sport over their career."

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association

A Thank You Gift from WOWSA

WOWSA is celebrating the
1-Year Anniversary of the monthly Open Water Swimming Magazine
by giving you a free copy of the anniversary issue.

Open Water Swimming Magazine Anniversary Issue
File Size: 13MB


Download the file to your computer, and then right-click to extract the magazine which is inside the zip folder. The magazine is in PDF format.

CLICK HERE to download your free copy now.

Swim Across the English Channel...


Who else is looking for a qualified open water swimming coach to help them swim across the English Channel?

Chloë McCardel is a 6-time English Channel Swimmer who inspires and instructs. Access featured content by Chloë in this month's issue of the Open Water Swimming Magazine. Published monthly by WOWSA, the Open Water Swimming Magazine is a digital, interactive publication made available exclusively to WOWSA members. See what you've been missing! Become a WOWSA member today!

Open Water Swimming Magazine

Open Water Swimming Magazine

The Open Water Swimming Magazine is the monthly magazine entirely focused on open water swimming heroes and heroines of every age, ability, and background. Published by the World Open Water Swimming Association, the Open Water Swimming Magazine is a free benefit to WOWSA members.

WOWSA Member Benefits include 12 issues of the Open Water Swimming Magazine, the annual 276-page Open Water Swimming Almanac, a free listing in Sponsor My Swim, outstanding product discounts from FINIS, an entry in Openwaterpedia and more...

The Other Shore

The Other Shore follows world record holder and legendary swimmer Diana Nyad as she comes out of a thirty-year retirement to re-attempt an elusive dream: swimming 103 miles non-stop from Cuba to Florida without the use of a shark cage. Her past and present collide in her obsession with a feat that nobody has ever accomplished. At the edge of The Devil’s Triangle, tropical storms, sharks, venomous jellyfish, and one of the strongest ocean currents in the world, all prove to be life-threatening realities. Timothy Wheeler’s documentary brings Diana Nyad’s extraordinary adventure to life as Diana sets out to prove that will and determination are all you need to make the unimaginable possible.

2014 Open Water Swimming Almanac

An Almanac for Open Water Swimming

An almanac is essentially a body of knowledge which is so complete that it enables people in different fields to make predictions about the future of their respective industries.

This, for example, was the purpose of the traditional farmers almanacs. It enabled farmers to determine as accurately as possible which crops to plant for the greatest harvests in a given year.

But the farmers almanac was just one example among many.
There are, of course, many different kinds of almanacs.

In fact, there is even one for open water swimming...

Preview the Open Water Swimming Almanac:

The trends are very clear.
The tide is rising for open water swimming.


Open Water Swimming Event Sanctioning

World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation

Open Water Race Calendar

Coaches Education Program