RISING is at London’s West Reservoir, dressed in a wetsuit and preparing to reclaim the water from a squad of geese nonchalantly strolling along the banks. We’re here because it’s hot, and slogging it out inside a sweating gym seems about as appealing as juggling snakes. I have a brief moment of doubt as I stare out over the gunmetal-grey wind-whipped water – in outdoor swimming, no one can tell you where the bottom is. But then I spot the safety kayakers from SH2OUT, the brand new open water swimming safety initiative – man up, RISING!
Powering through the murky water is a surreal experience – sunlight cuts down into the off-black depths making drifting debris shine like falling snow. It’s like being in a watery snow globe. I lift my head to sight, get blinded by the bronze glare of the afternoon sun bouncing off the water, and realise I’ve wandered the wrong side of the course buoy. I have to change tack and realise I probably shouldn’t have gone out so hard. I’m now in oxygen debt and, realising that I’m literally out of my depth, I dial the pace back a bit to recover.
‘If you can’t tread water then you could easily get in spot of bother’
Now I can see why we did the safety drills at the start – if you can’t tread water then you could easily get in spot of bother. As I swim through the soft-feeling water, free of chlorine’s sting, back to the pontoon, the upsides of open water swimming become obvious – it really does feel like a mini adventure. Excitement levels are higher, it washes the day from your mind, and you somehow put more effort in as a result. Trust us, it’s way more rewarding than lapping your local pool, but we want you to be safe, so RISING asked open water guru Prof Greg Whyte for these exclusive pro tips.
How To Go From Pool To Pond, With Professor Greg Whyte OBE
1. This Isn’t A Sport For Loners: NEVER Swim Alone
‘Irrespective of how competent you are or how safe you think it is, you should never swim open water alone. You don’t have to be joined in the water; just having someone close by, on the bank or beach, to make sure you’re safe. I never swim alone.’
2. Suited But Not Booted?
’Open water skins veterans can sometimes be a little bit disparaging of the wetsuit. However, if you’re a newcomer, the extra buoyancy and reduced impact of the cold can often ease your baptism into open water, making it a more pleasant experience that will keep you going. You can always lose the suit when you’ve conquered open water.’ [RISING Ed: some triathlons insist you wear a wetsuit.]
3. Cold Water Can Be Shockingly, You Know, Cold
‘One of the key issues with open water is the temperature. In cold water we often experience a ‘cold shock response’ which, amongst other things, leads to hyperventilation. This can be a real problem. However, the response will be significantly diminished after around five exposures to cold water. In the meantime, make sure you splash your face before getting in, this will help dampen the response (I still do it now!)’
‘There are no turns or clocks on the wall and it’s very difficult to gauge how fast you’re swimming’
4. It’s Not A Race – Well, Sometimes It Is, But Don’t Overreach
‘Rome wasn’t built in a day and you can’t expect to become an expert open water swimmer in a single session. Start out by just getting used to being in open water before gradually increasing the distance and intensity.’
5. We’re Not Poolside Here, So Consider The Variables
‘Open water swimming comes in a variety of flavours and making sure you take into account the different environments is key to your safety and enjoyment. Lakes are often the best place to start your open water career as the water conditions tend to be fairly constant. I love the river but you do have to take into account the current; it may take you a lot longer to get back home if you start off with the flow! The sea can be the most unpredictable with currents and waves changing the environment rapidly. So, know your environment before taking the plunge.’
6. Unless You Really Like Chaffed Bits, Then Lube Up
‘If you are wearing a wetsuit and/or are swimming in the sea, you’re likely to suffer from rubs, particularly under your arms, on your neck and between your legs! Make sure you use grease, or one of the multitude of commercially available swimming lubes, before you swim. In addition to being uncomfortable, the rubs can easily become open wounds and become infected; prevention is better than cure!’
7. Guess What – There Are No Lines On The Bottom
‘Unlike the pool, there are no turns, no clocks on the wall and it’s very difficult to gauge how fast you are swimming. Investing in wearable tech is a fantastic way to get the feedback you need during your swim and monitor progress across time.’
8. Mind Out For The Critters: It’s Called Wild Swimming For A Reason
‘Waterborne bugs are more of a problem in open water compared with the pool. Make sure you shower after swimming. If you wear contact lenses, make sure you take them out and clean or dispose of them. Wearing earplugs can help avoid ear infections and enhance your experience. If you get an infection (i.e. stomach, ear or skin) make sure you take appropriate action and seek expert medical advice.’
WHAT NEXT? You don’t have to take our word for it – get online and you’ll find there are people and places with permission to outdoor swim near you. ‘There are a huge number of open water swim centres around offering support, guidance and a great social experience,’ says Whyte. ‘Rather than going it alone, find your nearest open water group and join in the fun.’
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.