Top tips: thinking about open water swimming?
Read this if you’re considering open water swimming:
According to experts, open water swimming is even better for you than slogging up and down the lane at your local pool. Apparently, it can boost your immune system, help prevent and manage long-term health conditions, help you to sleep better and make you happier!
We spoke to Angus Greenwood, owner of Yonda in Honley and one of the biggest names in wetsuits and accessories for outdoor swimming and triathlons, about this growing sport. So before you strip to your swim shorts and take the plunge – or even dip your toe – into this exhilarating sport, read this blog for top tips on how to safely take up outdoor swimming.
1. Learn to swim
Learning to swim in open water can actually be easier than indoors, as wearing a wetsuit gives you extra buoyancy and thermal help. Modern wetsuits are also very flexible and easy to swim in if fitted correctly. Have a chat with Angus at Yonda if you need advice.
Most lakes have organised sessions and coaches who welcome new members whether you’re a beginner or a strong swimmer. Safety standards are exceptionally high for organised sessions and you’ll be well looked.
If you’re a strong pool swimmer and want to take up open water swimming, make sure you understand the differences. Open water is much harder to swim in. There can be waves, winds, currents and a distinct lack of walls to hold on to or push off.
As a rule, a person who can confidently swim for 30 minutes non-stop in a pool, is likely to manage only 15 minutes in open water before tiring. Aim to be able to swim at least 3 times as far in the pool as you’re planning to swim in open water, so for a 1km open swim, make sure you can swim at least 3km without stopping in the pool.
Open water is cold. Sometimes very cold! You will need a wet suit that fits properly and is suited to the conditions you’ll be swimming in. Wetsuits also help you swim. They increase buoyancy, which can be handy if you become tired and need to float for a while.
Visit the Yonda website for advice on buying a wetsuit, sizing guide and (importantly) how to get in and out of a wetsuit!
It’s also an idea to invest in a swimming cap and a selection of goggles. Having a pair of clear goggles for dull day and tinted goggles for sunny days is a good idea. You might want to check out Yonda’s range of accessories too. They have some cosy changing robes to keep you warm when you’ve finished swimming.
3. Start in summer
Did we mention that open water is cold? For that reason, if you’re new to the sport it’s a good idea to start open water swimming between May and October. The water is generally warmer at around 17-20 degrees Celsius, during these months.
There’s a serious side to this too. If you’re unused to swimming in cold water, jumping into a lake in December can cause big problems, even for very strong swimmers wearing wetsuits. The temperature shock often makes you gasp, which increases the risk of breathing in water and the heart has to work harder to plump blood around the body.
Acclimatising your body during warmer months and learning more about the sport, will mean that you’ll be aware of how to swim safely all year round. It’s also a lot more pleasant swimming in better weather!
4. Join an open water swimming club
It’s wise (if not essential) to swim with a buddy when you’re in open water. When starting out, joining a supervised open water swimming club is a great way to meet people and find swimming partners.
Good clubs will have courses marked out and often a team of lifeguards patrolling the water. Check out clubs near you. Some clubs train in swimming pools and organise regular open water events for members, which might suit some beginners.
If you’re the competitive type, clubs are a great way to find out about open water swimming competitions. Triathlon is another way to get into open water swimming – you just have to add a run and a bike ride into the mix! Holmfirth Harriers have a triathlon section if you’re interested.
5. Accept that you’re not alone
While not all swimming pools are scrupulously clean, open water is a different kettle of fish altogether. In fact, you’ll find yourself sharing your swim with fish and lots more sea or lake dwelling creatures too.
Added to that, open water can be deep, and visibility poor. There can be weeds, mud or shingle beneath you, along with other hazards such as ducks, branches or, sadly, plastic pollution.
Knowing the environment and preparing yourself mentally for your swim will help you to relax and enjoy the open water.
These tips are intended to make sure you enter open water swimming safely and with your eyes wide open. If you do, you’ll discover an exhilarating sport that offers both mental and physical benefits. You can find out more about getting started with open water swimming from the Swim England website.