Open Water Swimming

No chemicals, no heating, no lanes and maximum exhilaration; open water swimming is not a sport for the faint hearted.

Following on from it’s popularity last year open water swimming is set to become a big trend this summer. For the first time open water swimming was introduced to the 2008 Beijing Olympics with Britain doing surprisingly well clinching medals in both the men and women’s event. Quite surprising as our climate isn’t that well suited to swimming in the great outdoors….or is it?

More people are starting to realise that Britain’s rivers, lakes and coast are cleaner than they have ever been in the last 100 years. Combined with a real desire to reconnect with the natural environment, and the current economic climate, people are being encouraged to holiday in the UK and enjoy more outdoor activities.

The British Gas Great Scottish Swim is will be returning to Glasgow for its second year in August and will be Scotland’s largest outdoor swimming event. The event will take place in Strathclyde park which will also be the triathlon venue when Glasgow hosts the Commonwealth games in 2012. Last year it attracted close to 1000 entrants and this year organisers hope it will be even bigger. The Great Swim also took place in London, Windermere and Ipswich attracting a total of 10,000 competitors nationwide. The events also saw current world champion swimmers take to the waters as well as people raising money for charity or just taking part for fun.

Speaking about the events as a whole, Colin Hill, Event director commented: “Our vision for Great Swim was to inspire people into trying outdoor swimming for the first time as well as having the world’s best competing in the same event. The swims provide a great opportunity to set oneself a challenge, get together a group of friends or colleagues to participate or to raise money for charity. Whatever the reasons for taking part, the bottom line is all about inspiration and enjoyment”.

However, it’s not just organised events like the Great Swim series that are taking off, the number of people swapping the pool for the pond is on the increase. People enjoy outdoor swimming for many reasons. Some do it for the fitness benefits, some for the escapism, and others for the excitement… Some even claim that it is a spiritual experience!

The Outdoor Swimming Society believes that to enter wild water is to cross a border, you move from one realm into another: a realm of freedom, adventure, magic, and occasionally of danger.

The society was founded by Kate Rew in 2006, she believes, “Outdoor swimming, in rivers, lochs, lidos (outdoor pools, to you and I) and alongside the coast, is becoming more popular as people reconnect with their local swimming spots and rediscover the joy of swimming under open sky, in unchlorinated water and alongside our native wildlife. The Outdoor Swimming Society promotes safe wild swimming with the ultimate goal of seeing outdoor swimming regain its popularity of yesteryear.”

Over the course of 2010 Rew hopes to triple OSS membership and establish OSS regional reps all over the country for social swims.

Swimming pools are environmental sinners, using large amounts of power to heat and pump the water as well as an abundance of chemicals to ensure the water remains cleanish and that’s before you consider how much water it actually takes to fill the pool. Whilst the OSS does have an environmental message it is more aimed at preserving water, keeping Britain’s rivers free from pollusion and ensuring that the rivers are protected for future generations.

Most people have a misconceived idea that open water swimming is dangerous In 2002, a total of 175 people drowned in rivers in the United Kingdom. However after deducting the 22 who died in boating incidents and the 20 in vehicles and those under the influence of alcohol and drugs, only four swimmers died. Compared to the seven who died in swimming pools, suddenly open water swimming doesn’t seem quite so dangerous. One website even states that the biggest danger is being struck by a speedboat. And suggests swimmers should wear a bright yellow, orange or pink cap to reduce this risk slightly! The number of speedboats in areas of open water in and around Edinburgh is thankfully low so this is a risk which probably does not need to get taken too seriously!

So if you have been convinced to abandon the pool and take the plunge in the great outdoors, enjoy the freedom and liberation that you are bound to encounter.

Words by Debbie Smith

Photography by Dave Tyrell, Greatswim


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