Low Wood Bay is hosting the Big Chill Swim Windermere which will take place over the weekend of 30th January – 1st February. It would seem that open water swimming is the new hot (or should I say cold!) trend.
The Outdoor Swimming Society reports a 77% increase in membership since 2006 and growing by around 9 members daily. They list details of 940 outdoor places to swim in England – the fact that it’s a long list is probably not surprising since it is said that wherever you are in the UK you are not more than 70 miles from the sea, not to mention the many and varied lakes and rivers!
But just why is this sport taking off, and who are the people plunging in?
Ben Berry from English Lakes Hotels, and commentator for The Chill Swim, has been an open water swimmer for many years. I asked him to say in three words what was so good about the sport. ‘Fun’, ‘Available’, ‘Accessible’ was his reply.
Good for Physical Health
I learned to swim in a pool but I never liked the chlorine much. Distance swimming, although great for physical fitness and stamina, became very repetitive and a bit boring. Swimming outdoors is an exhilarating experience with an ever changing horizon and a sense of travelling somewhere. I injured my leg a few years ago which means that many other sports are now closed to me but outdoor swimming is a sport that is easily accessible to many with sports injuries.
Good for Mental Health
Open water swimming is good for those who suffer with certain mental health conditions. In a recent newspaper article, the writer Andrew Fusek Peters, who suffered from deep depression says
Swimming is about feeling alive – whatever fear is in my head, as soon as I am in the water, it has gone, slam-splash-dunked. So although swimming alone didn’t save me from depression, it broke the pattern.
In 2013 The National Trust published a report on Nature Deficit Disorder, the strange sounding phenomenon affecting our growing-up generation. It describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses. Open water swimming is the perfect way to address the worrying trend, and a fun way to take advantage of our wonderful countryside.
But isn’t it dangerous?
There is a real debate raging about the risks involved in allowing our children the freedom to explore nature. Some would say we risk more in not allowing them this opportunity.
Ben Berry comments that there are a number of dangers to be aware of but equally lots of advice and sensible precautions that minimise any risk.
A good introduction to open water swimming is to come along to watch an open water swimming event such as the Great North Swim, or January’s Big Chill Swim to see first hand the fun, challenge and camaraderie experienced by those who are diving in.