Out to Sea
By knowing what the water is doing, your entry into the ocean will be much more purposeful and calculated. Expect the surf to be coming into shore on most beaches. Remember, your entry will largely be spent working against the momentum of the waves and water coming in. There are a few simple tricks to most effectively navigate through this surf.
When to Dive
Don't get caught in the washing machine-like push and pull of the water near shore. The sooner you can get on your belly and begin freestyle, the better.
Base your first dive off the depth of the water. Never turn your back on the waves--always look straight ahead. Once you're waist high in the water, make your first dive and get your freestyle going as soon as possible. It's not necessary to wait for a wave to come before diving, as you'll find yourself wasting critical time.
If a crashing wave's whitewater has reached you, it's too late to try to dive under. As you look ahead at the waves forming, gauge where the wave will break and be prepared to dive under it about five to six feet before it reaches you. Dive three to four feet under the wave to avoid the turbulence of the wave above.
Swimming out to sea against the direction of the waves coming into shore can be tiring. Stay focused on your breath and keep a smooth rise and fall to your breathing pattern. Be sure you're not holding your breath at any point.
Once you've made your first dive and begun freestyle, it's best to remain horizontal and continue forward progress until you're past the surf. People often dive under a wave and surface upright only to find another wave at their face that pushes them back to where they started.