This is something we’ve struggled with various times at the start of a race. The start can be very difficult, and off putting, as it’s not something you can really prepare for when training.
The start is usually very hectic and clumped up, particularly if it’s very busy. If you’re at the front, you’ll probably have to deal with people coming over you or around you which can become very claustrophobic. We’d recommend starting near the back or to the sides, particularly if it’s your first swim and if you don’t want to race and are just swimming to complete it.
If you start at the back, it’s easier to swim at your own pace and find a pod of swimmers who are at a similar level. It’s worth remembering that it’s much easier to overtake someone then to be overtaken.
Another benefit of starting at the back is that you can find your own rhythm and not be pressured into swimming faster then you’re comfortable with. This can lead to an early burnout which is unpleasant and makes a swim a lot harder than it otherwise might be. You can also catch on to someone’s wake which makes it easier too.
It’s also worth remembering that it’s only manic around the start, after a couple of hundred metres the field spreads out so don’t panic, just focus on your own swim.