KAMLOOPS, BC- Ryley McRae is gearing up for something he has only done once before. The Thompson Rivers University WolfPack and Kamloops Classics swimmer is part of the Canadian Contingent at the 2019 Bestfest Open Water Swimming competition in Mallorca, Spain.

McRae and the national junior team are in Spain for pre-competition training. The event begins Sunday (May 26) and runs until June 1st.

“I do enjoy open water swimming,” says McRae.  “I am not sure if this is my niche. I am still discovering that.”

The BestFest event will be McRae’s second open water swim.  Last year, he was asked to be part of the junior national team as they competed in the Midmar Mile in South Africa.   “The national team coach at the time saw me perform in distance races during the pool season and thought I might have an aptitude for it.”

The soon-to-be second year Engineering student says it is a bit intimidating not being able to see the bottom during competition.  “Sometimes you will see some seaweed and it will freak you out a bit because you are used to seeing nothing.  Deep-water swimming is a bit more intimidating from the aspect of how they run their heats.  They line 400 people up at a time and you all go at once. Especially in the opening few minutes. It is kind of scary when you have four people around you and grabbing on. It is more of a challenge than pool swimming but it also has the fun aspect that you don’t know what might be in the next race as opposed to the one you just swam.”

McRae says the Bestfest event will be having smaller races leading up to the big event. He has also heard there will be less competitors than South Africa so the heats will be smaller in number.

“I am pretty excited about how I will do,” McRae adds. “ I have been feeling pretty strong in my practices. When I go there (Spain), I will be practicing more of my techniques for what I have to do in the lake.  I am looking forward to going and having as much fun as I can.”

McRae will swim a distance as long as 7.5 kilometers during the course of the event.

He admits that at this point, he does enjoy pool swimming more because of its repetitiveness and the ability to gauge your performances easier.  “Every race has the same aspect to it. You don’t have to worry about waves and people getting in your way.”

“Deep-water swimming is a complete different strategy than pool swimming,’ says McRae’s club and university coach Brad Dalke.  “The strokes are shorter and choppier because everything is uncontrolled. You are battling wind, waves and people crossing in front of you.  You have to be aggressive. Riley has that ‘aggressive nature’ that translates well from the pool to the lake.  Your stroke RPM is higher and you have to have endurance. The other part of deep-water swimming which is different is that it is a sprint at the star to give yourself position for ‘drafting’. You want to be in the top 10-15 people to the first buoy. “

Dalke says physically McRae is a good athlete and has the tools to be successful in deep water swimmer. “He is tenacious and tough in and out of the pool.  We have done some events outside of swimming. He is mentally tough in any aerobic event.  I think in this event, he will start off slow until he figures it out. With every race he does during the course of the competition, he will do better and better each time.  They will start with the shorter races and go to the longer courses. The last event is a 3×500 meter relay which is one lap of the circuit. I think Riley will get better and better with each particular race.”

Deep-water swimming is an Olympic sport.  McRae says with one of his goals to represent his country in the Olympics, this discipline might give him the opportunity to fulfill his dream