10 Gross Facts About Your local Pool And Why You Need To Move Your Swim To Open Water
An easy read Q&A That Answers the key questions you never dared to ask
By Dominic Watson
So what exactly is wrong with your pool? Is open water truly a realistic alternative for the average occasional swimmer?
To find out, we asked 2 seasoned open water swimmers Nic Kay and Yvonne Holborn to give us the low down on why they decided to take the brave leap from the pool to their local lake.
What is the difference between wild swimming and open water swimming?
Nic: The main difference is you can wild swim free of charge in any lake that’s on common ground. There are no Safety boats, no life guards, no infrastructure and no opening or closing time. You just turn up and jump in.
Yvonne: Most open water venues require payment and provide safety checks etc. including boats out on the lake with the swimmers.
N.B. If you are nervous about trying swimming outdoors in a lake/quarry/mere for the first time, check out the video below showing the experience from the perspective of a first timer: Open Water First Timer Video. This should quickly dispel any fears that is it the exclusive realm of oozy mud and hard-core triathletes.
Don’t forget to the read the rest of this article below, including those 10 gross things about your local swimming pool – which should provide you with the impetus to get you to try open water swimming. When you have tried it once, you will almost certainly never look back!
What is Open Water swimming?
Nic: Open water swimming is the best antidepressant there is. Swimming with no lanes and no limits. Swimming under the open sky. At one with the elements, the seasons, nature and yourself.
Yvonne: There is also a very social dimension. On top of the exercise, health and mindfulness aspects, it’s about sharing the experience with others: friendship, camaraderie, laughter and fun.
Nic: I love the fact that people think we are crazy. Each time we go out there, it feels like we are really living. Whilst other people are curled up on the sofa on a Wednesday night, watching television, we are out there doing something slightly edgy and less ordinary.
Yvonne: That’s right. In effect, we get to do a “bucket list item” every week, several times a week! Yet we are not amazing athletes or anything. We just developed a different outlook and mind-set. In reality anyone that can swim can do what we do.
Nic: That is so true. In my experience pretty much everyone who has been brave enough to give open water swimming a go has absolutely loved it and come back for more.
Always check with your doctor before participating in any new activity involving physical exertion. The chances are that they will actively encourage you to become more active, but it is important to get yourself checked out first. In most instances this will prove to be a useful step to help put any excuses you have at the back of your mind, firmly in the trash bin!
What is wrong with a swimming pool?
Nic: What’s right with a pool? Public swimming pools are absolute horror shows! You only truly realise this once you have experienced swimming in nature:
- The lanes are always packed – like the tube at rush hour
- The place always smells of wee
- The noise and echoey acoustics are horrendous
- Screaming kids, dive bombing and heavy petting!
You can never get a proper swim in no matter what time of day or night you go. I hate, hate, hate it!
- Chlorine (dries out skin & hair)
- Verruca city
- Hot & sweaty
- Lane rage!
- Too many people and poor hygiene
- Floating plasters/sanitary towels (and worse!)
I agree with Nic, public pools are grim foul places.
How long have you been doing it?
Nic: This will be my third season Yvonne: This is my second season
Crowded pool, or open water playground? Be bold enough to try it once and there will no going back!
How Old Are You & What do you do for a living?
Nic: 45 going on 17! I manage a children’s Play barn & cafe
Yvonne: you should never ask a lady her age, but [ahum] I’m 50. I’m self-employed, working in a family business
How often do you spend doing open water swimming each week?
Nic: 3 times a week 6 hours approx.
Yvonne: Summer 4+ hours, winter 1-2 hours a week
What are your main hobbies?
Nic: Running, cycling swimming and all 3 together
Yvonne: Running, Skiing, Walking, Cycling, Yoga
Are you in it for the cute “Bay Watch” life guards?
Nic: Ha ha! no cute Baywatch babes, but something even more attractive, stunning backdrops, the fresh air, the birds swooping and other wonderful wildlife.
Yvonne: If only! I f you find any – please send them my way!!
What are the benefits?
Nic: The benefits are amazing, and is the main reason I do it. it is not only fantastic for your physical health it’s the best antidepressant in the world FACT! It also helps to build up your immune system.
Yvonne: You buzz for hours after, your skin tingles & you sleep soundly. I find it peaceful, relaxing, rewarding, meditative, calming & rejuvenating – it recharges my body after a long run or cycle, soothing an aches or strains I find it complimentary to my other training…plus the people are just fab, no airs & graces just FUN LOVING & my kind of CRAZY!
How much does it cost?
Nic: It can cost as much or as little as you like. Wild swimming is free, and organised swims are always approximately £6 for a couple of hours. You can get wetsuits for around £50. Although I think the biggest cost is all the cake we eat afterwards lol
Yvonne: FREE!!! Unless it’s properly organised sessions with safety kayaks etc – then usually £6-10 for 2 hrs
What is the best location you have swum in?
Nic: The best place I’ve done open water swimming is Lake Windermere. Although Fourways Quarry (our natural habitat) is hard to beat well exotic hey!
Yvonne: St Lucia
Are there any organised competitions, challenges or events?
Nic: There are lots of events and challenges for open water swimmers.
Yvonne: Yes, there are loads. I entered a 5km this year – I was sooooo slow – but it doesn’t matter. They are very friendly, inclusive events and it felt like an amazing achievement!
Yvonne: In terms of the open swimmers “Everest”, I guess everyone can identify with the Channel crossing, but my friend’s brother in law Adam Walker has swum the 7 toughest oceans/channels
Nik: The holy grail of events in the UK has to be The Great North Swim Event at Lake Windermere
Do you record your swims on a smart watch?
Nic: Me too. I have an Apple Watch, I don’t really record it for serious reasons just to laugh at how off course I’ve gone and mainly to see how many calories I’ve burnt off so I know how much cake I can eat!
What would I say to people thinking about trying it?
Nic: DO IT!!
Yvonne: I second that. Don’t think – JUST DO IT! The feeling that you experience when open water swimming can’t be described … it has to be experienced.
What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you?
Nic: Whilst swimming with my best friend in Hatchmere she actually smacked a fish with her hand! All the fishermen were jealous. Another time was getting out of a lake covered in pond weed and looking like the monster from the deep.
Yvonne: I still giggle today at the sight of Ursula, a lady of a certain age swimming without a care in the world, completely in the ‘buff’ when I was head to toe in Neoprene, bobble hats & dry robes & still freezing cold!
If you were a fish / aquatic animal what would I be?
Nic: It would have to be a mermaid!
Yvonne: MERMAID – obviously – or a Dolphin!
What is your favourite memory from open water swimming?
Nic: I have loads of amazing memories. Sunrise swims, night swims, and hen party swims with inflatable sharks and unicorns! My favourite has to be my best friend’s birthday, when we had to break the ice to actually get in the lake to swim! The water temperature was 1.7 degrees, the coldest I have swum in. We had Prosecco on ice and we had to break the ice again to get back out of the water. We felt alive! Just awesome.
Yvonne: Too many to choose from…After getting the ok from my cardiologist I swam with Nic & Nik in Pickmere in winter – water temp was around 6/7 degrees – I didn’t have socks or gloves…that’s the day we saw Ursula…the buzz I had from my first cold swim lasted the whole day, I just love & recall that feeling!!
I also loved our last swim of the season at the Quarry with inflatable mermaids, unicorns, swans and sharks, fizz, cakes…we laughed so much it hurt –fantastic memory with awesome people!!
Do people who get into open water swimming ultimately want to do triathlon?
Nic: No: Definitely not! I have loads of friends who just OW swim and nothing else.
What made you start/How did you get in to it?
Nic: I met and became involved with a group of people who had been open swimming for a few years and it was always something I had wanted to try.
Yvonne: Inspired by Nic to come along to an organised session and was hooked
What gear do you need? Do you need to grease up?
Nic: As long as you have a swim hat, goggles and a swimming costume, you can give it a go. personally,I would recommend a wetsuit for extra buoyancy and warmth. And no you don’t have to grease up like a Channel swimmer
Yvonne: In the summer, – this year especially when it is has been unusually warm – swimsuits have been all that is required. However, always wear a hat / swimming cap for visibility. In the winter when both the air and water temperature drop, a wetsuit, gloves and socks will become essential.
Do you have any top tips for getting out of a wetsuit?
Nic; Getting out of a wetsuit is an art in itself, i just wiggle my way out of it, sitting down and getting someone else to pull you out is another good option lol
Yvonne: No! I am hopeless and often need help from a friend or passer-by!!
What happens if you need a wee?
Nic: You just Wee! It’s the law to wee in your wet suit when open water swimming.. It’s what we call built in central heating!
Yvonne: If wearing a wetsuit it’s just nature’s central heating. When you have to go – you have to go!
Is it just for ladies?
Nic: No, no, no! Anyone, Any age, shape, size or fitness can try it.
Yvonne: Total mix of male female, our group of friends is predominantly female, but looking to encourage gorgeous ‘single’ men – if you know of any? 😉
Is the water clean? Can you catch anything? Do you need any jabs?
Nic: Not all water quality is the same. Some places have much clearer water than others, but in the past 3yrs I’ve never been poorly from it, if anything it’s helped to build up my immune system.
Yvonne: Where we swim the water is very clear & clean. It is never advisable to drink the water of course, but we have never had any illnesses or tummy upsets. Be aware of blue and green algae. This often blooms in warmer weather and has been shown to cause tummy upsets in animals and humans. So if there is any sign of this in the summer, it is not advisable to swim.
Is it dangerous?
Nic: If not treated with respect yes it could be dangerous. But as long as you take sensible precautions, like swimming in a group, wearing the relevant kit for the water temperature and getting out when you start to feel cold, then you should be fine. It is just like any other sport. If you do it properly then you will be safe.
Yvonne: Any activity carries a level of risk, so it is important to take steps to mitigate this, e.g. wearing a bright hat so that you are visible, having ‘shore support’ or using a tow float, swimming with friends, avoiding areas with powerboats or jet skis, getting in slowly especially when water temperatures are low, limiting time in the water if cold. Having hot drinks & clothing on shore for after your swim. If you have any heart condition or family history, it is worth getting GP approval first.
Do you need to be a master of front crawl, or is it OK to simply have basic breast stroke?
Nic: I started off doing breast stroke and didn’t even put my head under the first few times. As long as you are confident in deep water and are comfortable with the way you swim you will be fine.
Yvonne: If you can swim, regardless of technique or stroke choice then open water swimming is for you.
Can you swim alone?
Nic: My friends and I would never swim alone if we are wild swimming. We always swim in pairs or bigger groups, that way if anyone gets into trouble we can help or call for help. If we are at an organised swim where there are safety boats and more infrastructure, then we will all start together but all naturally separate with the speed of our swimming.
Yvonne: Yes if you are a very confident swimmer and know the local conditions. However, I would always advise a tow float if going alone, just in case of cramp or encountering any difficulty.
Have you ever been scared, or have you have had to be rescued?
Nic: I’ve never been scared, although the first time I tried it I was apprehensive as I didn’t really know what to expect. And no I’ve never had to be rescued!
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