I cannot deny one of the biggest things I love about open water is the people. The variety, age, gender, size, shape, personality. It’s one of the few activities that appeals to so many.
And it’s, by and large, a friendly community. There’s friendly banter between the leisure swimmers and the hard core, swim faster types. Mick taking that’s always taken in good humour.
The majority of OW swimmers are passionate about what they do. Get a group of OW swimmers together who’ve never met before and more often than not they’ll talk for hours about beloved swim spots, their favourite piece of kit, and their dreams for future swims. I know this because I did the exact same thing last week!
We encourage others to follow in our damp footsteps. Wanting to share the joy and exhilaration we get from it. Forming groups on social media or creating our own little close nit pod of water based creatures. Knowing that someone will be up for a dip on a short term whim.
The freedom of water has led to conversations I never thought I’d have with people. All of them good. The stripping back to nature and base survival that OW incites seems to clear away the stuffiness of normal life to allow a higher level of openness.
Seeing swimmers come out of the water with a huge grin on their faces at the venue I help at is the reason I’ve put so much heart and soul into getting it up and running.
But with that enthusiasm and love we have a responsibility as OW swimmers. Not just to encourage others to enjoy what we do but to make sure they do it safely.
As I’ve talked about before, water can be incredibly dangerous. If you don’t understand the risks and dangers you can risks yours and others lives.
An element of the joy of OW is that there is some risk. Ultimately though not being safe and, at times, not very sensible around water makes it enjoyable for no-one
I often feel conflicted doing what I do. Swimming locally, sometimes where I can be seen by others. Running a venue that appears to normalise something that my generation have had drilled into us we just shouldn’t do.
I often get asked by parents how to approach their teenage children about what I do. Honestly, I’m always slightly stumped for an answer. In truth I don’t know. I don’t have teenagers yet, I don’t have a feeling as to how they might behave. I don’t know whether telling them I do it but informing them of the risks will make a difference.
What I do know is that we need to educate everyone better on the risks as well as joys of open water. We have a lot of mixed messaging in the UK. Many organisations are involved in open water swimming and water safety; The Outdoor Swimming Society; Swim England; British Triathlon Federation; RNLI; RLSS; Fire and Rescue Services; Police forces; to name just a few.
They all have slightly different agendas and subsequently slightly different approaches. The overarching message is to be safe around water but some say just don’t go in whilst others encourage it with great enthusiasm whilst highlighting the risks.
None of them are right or wrong but it sends a confusing message to the public.
I try and do my bit to spread the reasonable approach, of swim outside but understand the risks and how to deal with them. I write about it here and I do water safety talks in schools and with our local Beaver and Brownie groups. I give people detailed briefings at our venue and will direct them to further information if they ask………whether they like it or not sometimes. I hope to run some kids OW sessions in the summer this year too.
What I really want to see is more people spreading this message of safety. To everyone, kids, teenagers, the ones who are used to outdoor activities, those who maybe aren’t and need a bit more of a heads up that being outside in the elements is such a different ball game. Not in a “You mustn’t do this unless you’ve been on a course and done a risk assessment” kind of way but by just adding a little something to social media posts. Maybe sharing a link to a good article you’ve seen on being safe whilst you swim. Or if you’re being that awesome person that takes a friend out, make sure you have that conversation about what it’s like getting this cold, what to do in an emergency and what you might feel like afterwards.
Use your experience and share, not just your favourite swim spots, but your approach to enjoying it safely too.
If you’ve thought up any ingenious ways of doing it please share.
We all have a social responsibility to make sure our life choices don’t affect others negatively. Let’s use our love of OW to #sharetheswimlove but to also share it safely. The more we can prove that OW can be safe the more we might convince land-owners to open up access to their water bodies for all and de-mystify that belief that someone will die in their waters if they let us anywhere near.
The following links might be useful but there’s lots of other useful information out there too:
OSS Survive By far and away the best resource for all things wild swimming and safety. Worth an in depth read.