Open water swimming is all the rage at the moment and it is exactly what it sounds like – quite simply swimming outdoors in something that isn’t a pool! It can be a lake, the sea, a river, a large pond… essentially any swim-able expanse of water.
Open Water Swimming Events are totally different to impromptu ‘wild swimming’ and refers to an organised race or challenge but how exactly do you go about joining in with this fantastic craze?!
First things first,
Find a Local Group or Club
Open water swimming is a big movement at the moment after gaining popularity in the recent years.
If you live anywhere near the coast, then swimming groups are easily accessible, often complete with seasoned (and maybe mad!) swimmers who take a dip every day of the year.
These groups welcome new, novice swimmers and this a great way to find out about more events, discover good swimming spots and pick up tips from knowledgeable open water swimmers. There are also a large number of inner city swimming groups, who frequent rivers or lakes. A Google search will often get you the info you need regarding your local area.
Sign up to an Event
Signing up to an event might well give you the push you need to really take your open water swimming a bit more seriously. Open water events occur all over Britain, all through the year, but if you’re a beginner, then it’s much better to choose a summer event. There is massive variation in distance of open water swimming events as well as level of competition so you should be able to find something to suit you whether it be fun or serious.
Open water swimming also occurs as part of Aquathlons and Triathlons if you’re into running and/or cycling.
The easiest way to choose an event is to look at the events calendar on the very helpful H2Open Magazine Website. Almost all the British and a fair few overseas events are listed on the site with a link to register.
The main open water race season in the UK starts around May and ends around September. Event spaces get booked quite far in advance so make sure to get in there early! The best advice for a beginner is to book one late in the summer and start your outdoor training in spring. That gives you a few months of slightly less cold water to prepare in. If you want to book one now and have no experience, the best bet would be to choose one in late summer 2015.
A great event for beginners in the South of England is the Brighton Marina Open Swim in September, which has the option of a short 500m swim. For Midlands based beginners, then the Bosworth Masters Open Water event, has a similarly short distance of just 400m, is a good late summer choice.
Sign up to a Course
If you have a big open water event or triathlon on the horizon, then you can pick up a vast amount of knowledge and skill on a short course. One day intensive courses are available all over Britain and are a great way to ask all those questions you have, whilst swimming with the protection of a small boat crew. Swim tourism is on the up too and this includes week or weekend long courses abroad. Some swimmers choose these during our own autumn, winter or spring, to train in slightly warmer waters that are comparable to our own summer.
Get the Right Gear
Open water swimmers are usually very particular about getting the right gear as it makes a huge amount of difference to the overall swimming experience and all swimmers have their own favourites.
Essentially, it is most practical to get yourself a wetsuit to train and compete in and a tri suit if you are taking part in a triathlon. Some may prefer to just wear regular swimwear for training but many events only let you compete in a wetsuit so it is best to practice in one too. A wetsuit offers more than just warmth; it offers protection and a small amount of buoyancy too, which is especially handy when you are just starting out. A full selection of the best wetsuits can be viewed here.
In terms of goggles, then there’s a huge selection now available on the SwimShop website, but what you are looking for is a pair that offers a wide peripheral vision and UV protection from sunlight.
A pair of flip flops or similar to use when getting in and out of the water is more important than you might think. Protecting your feet from cuts, especially if you plan on swimming in rivers or lakes, is very important.
A very brightly coloured swimming cap is another essential item. It is vitally important that you be easily seen when swimming especially if you plan on swimming in busy areas where there are boats. Again, there are a wide selection of suitable caps to be seen if you click here.
All your essential items can be found on the SwimShop website.
Open water swimming is not without its risks and being safe should be a number one priority for all open water swimmers, beginners and experts. The River and Lake Swimming Association website gives a really good objective look at the risks of swimming in rivers and lakes, and how to assess those risks. They talk about things like pollution and diseases that live in the water, getting into the water and looking out for signage. There are also the obvious safety tips of course, such as never swimming under the influence of drugs or alcohol and never going out alone for an open water swim.
Above all, enjoy yourself! Open Water swimming is a great way to get up close to nature and take part in a sociable and effective exercise!