I began open water swimming when I was 12 years old and had to take that first 'scary' step transferring from the pool to the unknown. I asked my parents about entering a cross-Windermere swim, and I can still remember it all so clearly 40 years later. So here's what would I advise those just getting into the fantastic outdoor waters.
1. Safety first
I was a bit nervous when I first swam in open water, but I was confident in the safety support I had, and this helped reduce my ‘butterflies’. I was accompanied by a rowing boat which had the Flag Alpha flying (denotes a swimmer in the water). Make sure you inform others
of where you are going, check the weather
, respect the water
- even lakes can become rough!
2. Get the gear
Always wear a brightly coloured swim hat
and use a safer swim float
. The ones I use are also drybags as well so you can carry a small amount of kit in there. Make sure you get goggles
you feel comfortable wearing - it's not as easy to change your goggles in open water as it is in a swimming pool!
I began long distance swimming in the 70s when only a swimming costume
, hat and goggles were allowed. Nowadays, wetsuits
are permitted in certain events so you would need to check with any event organiser. If you do wear one make sure it fits comfortably as they can rub if not correctly fitted.
3. Hone your skills
Open water swimming is different to the pool, so you need to try out specific skills before venturing out. I tend to walk slowly when getting in
unless it is a deep entry, in which case I have to immerse myself much quicker. Mastering the skill of sighting
as there are no lines on the bottom of a lake to follow! You'll need to be able to look up while swimming, without interrupting your stroke.
start off with short swims and build it up, it gets easier the more you do. Get your body used to handling the cold and in turn, you will increase your confidence.
4. Fuel your body
There's nutrition leading up to a swim and nutrition while swimming. There are many 'heads' on this one, and I am of the opinion that every swimmer is different and needs to find what works for them.
The events you enter also determines what feeding pattern and technique you need to use. There are various methods, but I have always used a small drinking bottle which has a lid that I can easily pull up and suck from, or one with a flip top that I can open quickly in the water and 'tip' into my mouth.
5. Find the right coach
Unlike when I started out with open water swimming, there are now many coaches out there and many swim camps, clinics and events that are available to help you.
Be realistic and set yourself appropriate targets. Many of my swimming camps cater for a variety of swimmers as I like to inspire, motivate, enable and ultimately to expand upon a swimmer's potential.
It is also useful to join a swimming club in your area, and there are many lakes out there which have been approved for open water swimming.