The Swimrun Pull Buoy: A Love Story

The pull buoy is the most important part of your Swimrun equipment.

Photo: Jakob Edholm / Pierre Mangez / ÖTILLÖ

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In this monthly Swimrun column, Chris Douglas and Chipper Nicodemus, a Swimrun team out of Northern California and hosts of the Löw Tide Böyz – A Swimrun Podcast, answer all of your Swimrun questions. This month, the Boyz share their love for their favorite piece of kit: the Swimrun pull buoy.

If you spend any time on our Instagram page you’ll notice that we have an inordinate amount of content about Swimrun pull buoys. We started creating these memes because we thought the pull buoy love was a super random and funny quirk to Swimrun kit. Now, the memes have taken on a life of their own. We get DMs from listeners showing us their DIY (sometimes Frankenstein-esque) pull buoys. Back in February, aka the pre-COVID days, we were on the ferry to Catalina Island for ÖtillÖ Catalina when a few of our listeners came up to us to show us their DIY pull buoy setup. (Looking at you Colleen, Libby, and Tori!)

Given that we give (and get) so much love to the Swimrun pull buoy, we thought it was time to share that love with Triathlete readers.

A Pull Buoy Science(ish) Lesson

Pull buoys are a must-have part of the typical Swimrun kit. As you might imagine, swimming while wearing shoes creates a substantial amount of drag in the water and has the effect of causing your body positioning and alignment to deteriorate. A pull buoy correct all of that and (usually) yields faster swim times when coupled with swim paddles.

As Swimrun has rapidly evolved over the past 15 years, it has become a general consensus that the larger the pull buoy, the better. In fact, it is such an advantage that many of the big race organizers, including ÖTILLÖ, Ödyssey Swimrun, and Breca Swimrun, all limit the size of pull buoys to 15cm x 30cm x 32cm. Several companies make pull buoys that come right up to the “legal” limit. We have coined this style “Euro Big Boi Buoys” since they are about two to three times the size of the pull buoy you are used to using in traditional lap swimming.

However, we are total converts now to using large Euro-style pull buoys for Swimrun and we see the days of using a tiny (by comparison) old-school pool-style pull buoy for Swimrun coming to an end. Until then, we love seeing how people rig their DIY pull buoys—and we have some thoughts on what works best.

DIY Pull Buoy Culture

One of our favorite features about Swimrun is the fact that it’s still the Wild West when it comes to kit setups—and no piece of equipment gets more attention than the pull buoy. Swimrun teams need to carry their pull buoys with them during run legs and tucking it under your arm like a football is, umm, inefficient. This reality has led to some pretty cool innovations that are competing for the title of best setup. Most of these were DIY jobs before companies started selling them with strategically placed holes or straps for mounting, but the DIY culture is still alive and well and is on display at every event. We would even go so far as to say that DIY-ing your Swimrun pull buoy is a rite of passage that all Swimrunners should go through.

In general, there are several popular mount styles that Swimrunners have devised to carry their pull buoys during run legs. There’s a leg mount style, where an athlete DIYs some straps or cords that help the pull buoy stay strapped to the leg, and an athlete just needs to rotate it to the inside of the thigh for swimming and rotate it back out for running.

Another popular mount is the back or lasso mount where the pull buoy is attached to a cord tied around the waist, and an athlete tucks it to their lower back during run legs and swings it around between their legs for swim legs. We’re big fans of this style and would recommend this mounting style over the leg mount.

If you are looking for a little guidance to DIY your own Swimrun pull buoy we have a handy YouTube video showing you the step-by-step process to DIY a Swimrun pull buoy and mount. But there are plenty of other DIY videos out there as well, if our’s isn’t good enough and you want to go down the pull buoy rabbit hole.

The best part about all this is that there’s no right method to any of this madness. Whatever you stumble upon that works for you is totally cool. Pull buoy “couture” is alive and well and we’re always stoked when our listeners share their DIY creations with us. Odds are that the first setup you try won’t be your last, as you dial in the perfect setup for you. Who knows, the next greatest pull buoy style might be being discovered right now in someone’s garage or basement.

That’s it for this month’s column. Reach out to us with any Swimrun questions that you’d like to see answered. Until next time, take a moment to appreciate the pull buoys in your swim bag.

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