More and more of us are cottoning on to the joys of outdoor swimming. Whether you want to be closer to nature, inject a bit of adventure into your life, or chase that mood-boosting buzz – the appeal of a wild (or semi-wild) dip is endless.
But, it’s definitely a good idea to ask questions before giving it a go. There are safety factors to consider – like not swimming alone and being aware of cold water risks – and you’ll want to choose a suitable location.
Curious? We ask seasoned outdoor swimmers to answer some pressing questions…
I’ve never really been the sporty type. Will I fit in and feel welcome?
“Yes! I swim with people of all ages and abilities – many started because of lockdown when pools were shut. That’s how I got into it,” says PR coach Amanda FitzGerald. “Some people do the head-out-of-water breaststroke and chat/have laugh kind of swim, and others do the serious head down, let’s put in some mileage swim.”
Can you do it at any age?
Obviously, with young children, safety is even more paramount. “Children love the adventure of an outdoor dip – but be aware they get colder quicker and very young children can swallow more water than older children, so it can be a risk in wild water,” says Foote. “Never take your eyes off them and be in the water with them.”
Being a bit older needn’t stop you – providing you can swim. “Many swim well into their 80s and 90s,” Foote adds. “Swimming is low impact on joints and great for gentle exercise.”
What is cold water shock?
Cold water coach Fenwick Ridley explains there are additional safety considerations when it comes to cold water (defined as anything below 15°C). Cold water shock is essentially the body’s natural “protective response”, when blood is drawn rapidly away from the skin’s surface.
It’s a key reason why submerging too quickly can be extremely dangerous, as it can cause rapid breathing and blood pressure to spike. “One of the first things people notice with the shock response is the gasp reflex – that intake of air we generally get when we reach the waistline,” says Ridley.
“The way we manage it is through acclimatisation – a step by step process every time we get in. That’s basically getting the water onto our skin, walking in slowly, and taking time to get our breathing right. A neat trick is, as we enter the water, we go down to our shoulders on an exhale. Blowing out as we go down, slowly.”
What’s the best way to warm up afterwards?
“Even in summer, you can feel cold after a dip,” says Foote. “The best and most efficient way to warm up is to dry off, remove any wet clothing/material and put on dry layers. If it’s a cold month or there’s a breeze, a thermal base layer, with a good jumper and decent jacket/coat, depending on the season, is best. A hot drink will warm you from the inside.”
Ridley is fond of a sugary tea or hot chocolate. “Also, jumping into a hot shower straight after a super cold swim can make you faint,” he adds. Instead, focus on getting into your dry warm layers.
Why do some people wear wetsuits and others don’t?
This is often personal preference, although some venues have rules, depending on time of year and temperature.
“Wetsuits provide warmth and buoyancy. They can protect you from the sun and help with natural sensations like swimming among reeds,” says Foote. “I prefer swimming without, as I love all the sensory experiences of being in outdoor water. The best thing to wear is the thing that makes you feel most comfortable and enables you to enjoy the swim.” There’s also the option of neoprene gloves and boots, if you just fancy a bit of coverage on those bits.