13 August 2019

Wild Swimming for Beginners

Wild Swimming for Beginners

Swimming in remote waters and open oceans is wildly popular right now. If new to the notion, where to start? With our tips you’ll soon be wild swimming like a pro and the great thing is, you’re already wearing the right outfit (beneath your clothes). When ready, take a breath and dive in to our Beginners’ Guide to Wild Swimming. 

Finding wild swimming spots and friends

There are many ways to find idyllic wild-swimming gems near you. Trekkers often stumble upon truly wild and remote lakes and rivers or head out to find the promising spot they found on a map. For the uninitiated but organised, online research will quickly reveal local clubs, societies and informal locations and groups near you. You’ll soon be an integral part of your local wild-swimming tribe. Can’t find one? Start one!

Do some armchair research: with these classic Wild Swimming books.

Go slow

If you’re not used to wild swimming, ease yourself in. Rather than going to a new place with new people to try a new thing, introduce one new element at a time. You’ll feel calmer and your breathing will remain more regular as all of your senses won’t be overwhelmed. Diving 20m into rough seas near the drag of a deadly whirlpool in minus temperatures may make your wild-swimming career a very short one…

Get support from a local group: search Wild Swimming on Meetup.

Allow time to acclimatise

In cold regions, the water temperature can take your breath away. It’s because the ‘cold shock response’ causes the body to gasp involuntarily. You don’t want that to happen while still underwater following a daring jump! Once you’re in, start slowly and stay near the shores or shallows initially. Once you feel calm and more confident, venture further. You’re not entering the Olympics, you’re connecting with nature. Go at your own pace.  

Triathlon advice: acclimatising for cold water swims.

Wetsuits and masks

If the water is cold or you’ll be in for a while, consider a wetsuit. A surfing one will do if that’s what you’ve got initially. If you really get into it, perhaps buy a swim-specific one as an investment into your budding wild-swimming career. To peek into the watery underworld as you glide along the surface, grab some goggles or a snorkeling mask. For a quick impromptu dip, though, you won’t need any kit at all. Just swimwear (or not, as the case may be), a bit of bravery and something to help you dry off afterwards. 

Learn how to: put on and take off an open water wetsuit properly.

Finding a good spot

Many factors impact what is a good spot, and they’re not all about the water. Can you park or access the area easily? Is there mobile phone signal to make an emergency call if you need to? Are there any animals or on-shore creatures to be aware of or to protect your feet from? Do your research before taking the plunge at a new wild-swimming spot, whether online or in situ, and everything should go swimmingly…

Check out: the global Wild Swim Map for spots near you or add your own.  

Water clarity

In clear water, you know what lies beneath. Is it smooth or are there jagged rocks or tangling plants? If the water isn’t clear, take extra care and only dive in if sure about water depth and what’s beneath the surface. Take your time, watch others do it, build your confidence. Lakes that are clear on calm days can change in rough weather and looking into the water from above (if possible) can reveal new information. One wild swimmer enjoyed a dip in a waterfall’s plunge pool in Australia… only to spot several crocodiles in that pool when looking down from the falls later! 

Find out more: with tips from the Outdoor Swimmer magazine.

Know your limits

If you swim out, you must also swim back so turn back before you’re too tired. If remote, take a companion for company and moral support. In tidal waters, you might cover more water than you realised and then have to head back against the tide. Though rejuvenating, relaxing and good for body and soul, this is a hobby that needs a bit of homework to ensure you experience all the good bits and avoid the rest.  

Get more advice from: the UK’s Outdoor Swimming Society.

Taking your tech

For many, wild swimming is all about escaping the chaos of daily life. Others want to document and capture their wild-swimming experience. If you take any phones or cameras near the water, make sure they’re either waterproof or properly sealed into a waterproof bag. Realising that you’ve ruined your favourite bit of kit is a sure-fire way to spoil a perfect day. 

Consider buying: a top-reviewed waterproof phone pouch.

Be safe

Tell people where you’re going and when you expect to be back, especially if you’re going alone. This is especially important if you’re the type to disappear for days at a time on impromptu camping trips or treks. If people don’t know where you’ve gone or that you’re missing, they won’t be looking for you. 

Check out: Wild Swimming’s Freshwater Safety Guide

Competitive swimming

You swam wild, you loved it, you’re good at it, you want to take it to the next level. What now? There are many local, national and international competitions that you can enter from ice, ocean and river swims to open water triathlons. Train for anything from a quick local race to the epic Oceans Seven – a multi-stage challenge to swim the world’s seven toughest oceans. Happy swimming!

Inspiration: Kim Swims, a film about an NZ woman attempting an Ocean’s Seven swim.

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