If in the ocean, stand just after where the waves break close to the shore and just get used to the sensation of choppy water or swells coming at you or over your head. When you are comfortable with that, gradually evolve to treading water or being in a front crawl position while letting the water continue to roll over you. Don't worry about a full swim session to start, just focus on getting comfortable and confident with being in the water again.
Practice in a controlled environment. When it comes time to return to open water training, stay close to shore and swim with a partner. You can get a great workout in just thigh-high water where you can easily stop and stand if you need a break.
It might help to simply do back-and-forth laps of 20 to 30 strokes so you remain in the same areas of the water. There is no pressure to go far out from shore; you only need to do what you initially feel comfortable with and gradually extend that by 5 to 10 strokes. Give yourself constant reassurance on your efforts and improvements.
Know your get out card. Even while you're focusing on improving, it's smart for all triathletes to have a go-to plan if they need it. If the situation is getting the best of you and you feel panic brimming, the fastest and easiest strategy is to simply roll onto your back and remain buoyant so you can breathe easily with your face to the sky.
You may still need to be mindful of waves or swells but simple kicking on your back will allow you to regain your breathing and composure, give you the chance to return to your normal stroke. Also try mixing in breast stroke to keep your head above water and regulate your breathing before you return to your normal stroke.
Practice rolling onto your back in a pool as well to get used to the feeling and how to quickly get in or out of the position while still kicking and using your arms for balance. Doing this when you're safe, calm and confident in a pool will make you more confident to use it in the open water.
Fear: Getting Caught in a Crush
The opening few hundred meters in a triathlon is perhaps unlike any other sporting experience. The close confines of thrashing arms, kicking legs and the need to breath: It's no wonder it is the biggest turn off for most, even die hard triathletes. And further into it, around the turning buoys, can be just as clogged and uncomfortable.
The key to not becoming a victim of the situation and instead being able to cope confidently comes down to your mindset and strategy.
Be assertive. Regardless of whether you're a front, middle or back of the pack type, a strong swimmer or not, you will give yourself the best chance at a successful swim by adopting an assertive approach. Being assertive is about 'owning your space' and being firm in your stroke and kick while maintaining your preferred pace. Keep a good arm extension in front of you to help hold your line—that way you'll know you've got the space to take a full stroke each time.