by Simon Griffiths, founder and publisher of Outdoor Swimmer

Swimming is the UK’s most popular participatory sport. More than two million people regularly visit swimming pools around the country according to data from Sport England. However, a much smaller number, around 100,000 people, regularly swim in open water – but that number is growing as more people discover the joys of swimming in nature.

We also know, again from Sport England, that there is considerable latent demand for outdoor swimming. Thousands more people would like to swim outside, to share the excitement, adventure and challenge, but don’t know how to get started. We’ve therefore come up with this brief guide on how to get into outdoor swimming.

- Relay Channel Assessment Day, 2016

Know how to swim

Firstly, and we know this sounds obvious, make sure you can swim! We’d recommend being able to swim continuously for at least 100m and preferably more. You should be confident with swimming on your front (either front crawl or breaststroke) and rolling onto your back to rest or wave your arms for assistance. Go and practise in a pool first. If you’re really struggling, see if you can get lessons. A lot of swimming coaches now offer one-to-ones or small group classes for adults who missed out on tuition as youngsters.

-Solent, 2015

Understand risks and stay safe

Secondly, familiarise yourself with the key risks and hazards in open water swimming and, importantly, how to manage them so that you stay safe. Read our article on this

- Relay Channel Swim, 2016

Get a swim buddy

Next, try to find a local club or group of outdoor swimmers. Check out the Outdoor Swimming Society and search for groups on Facebook. If you can’t find a swimming group, try a triathlon club and ask if it organises open water sessions for beginners. Swimming with existing swimmers will be safer and more fun, and will save you the trouble of trying to find the best local swim spots by trial and error.

However, do not panic if you cannot find a swimming group. It’s not the end of your outdoor swimming career but it may potentially reduce your options.

Night Swim 2015

- Night Swim, 2015

Find an inspiring place to swim

If you are lucky enough to find other people to swim with, let them guide you on the best place for your first outdoor swim. If not, your best options will either be a life-guarded beach or a commercial inland venue (usually a lake). The former has the advantage of being free but you will be limited in how far you can swim to the distance between the lifeguards’ flags, and sea swimming is potentially more difficult than lake swimming. Good commercial venues will have full safety cover, marked swimming routes of varying distances and changing facilities. Some venues will offer introductory courses or training sessions, which can be great for overcoming any fears you may have. If you’re feeling really adventurous, and your swimming skills are up to the challenge, buy yourself a wild swimming book and use that to find places to swim.

- Relay Channel Swim, 2016

Get acclimatised

Don’t worry initially about speed or distance. Just get used to being in the water and natural water temperatures. Notice how what can initially feel unbearably cold begins to feel quite pleasant after a few minutes but keep your swims short (20 to 30 minutes is plenty) until you gain an understanding of how you cope with the temperature, not having a black line to follow and not having a wall to grab hold of every 25m. Relax and enjoy the sensation of not fighting for space with other swimmers or worrying if you’re in the right lane or how badly your skin and hair will smell of chlorine when you’ve finished (it won’t). If you’re wearing a wetsuit you will find swimming in one feels quite different to without and you need to get accustomed to the additional buoyancy and how it changes your position in the water. Lie on your back, look at the sky and remind yourself how lucky you are to be outside and in the water.

- Relay Channel Swim, 2016

Make it your own

Where you go next depends on what you want to do in outdoor swimming. Are you aiming to swim a fast mile in a wetsuit or cross the English Channel without? Do you want to explore your local wild swimming spots or do a swim tour in the Mediterranean? Outdoor swimming offers so many more opportunities than your local pool so explore what’s available and be inspired. We would obviously recommend reading Outdoor Swimmer Magazine, visiting our website and signing up for our email newsletter to keep yourself informed and inspired but there are plenty of other sources on the web to explore too.

Find out more:

Open water swimming – safety and risk assessment

Outdoor Swimmer Magazine

Outdoor Swimming Society

Why not try...

River Arun Swim
Our River Arun swim gives you the chance to soak up the English countryside in rural Sussex with a complimentary breakfast, beautiful summer swim on the river Arun and then an optional celebratory post-swim lunch at a local pub. It is a 4 mile tidally assisted swim for beginners wanting a taste of open water swimming.

Solent Swim
Join us in Portsmouth for our 3 mile swim across the Solent to the Isle of Wight. Swim one way or to the Isle of Wight and back again! You will receive your own personal kayaker as well as a full safety team escorting the group across the sea.

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So, how did I get to this point?

Relay Channel Swimmer Stephen Bonner tells us how he went from never having swum face-down front crawl to swimming across the English Channel.

Make the switch: what's to like about open water swimming
Cath Harris explores the benefits of open water swimming from an improved sex life to curing writer's block.

Swimming blog


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