Open water swimming, or wild swimming, is on the rise in India, and for a good reason. Its numerous mental and physical health benefits and easy access make it an ideal and low-maintenance sport to pursue. Open water swimming (OWS) is essentially any swim carried out in an open, natural body of water, most often practised across sea channels. This sport gained particular momentum during the COVID-19 period, as it provided a more socially distanced alternative to traditional pool swimming.
Most of us capable of swimming are tempted to try this out already, so let us explore the technicalities and effectiveness of OWS through this article.
But why try open water swimming?
The primary benefit of OWS is the abundant mental strength it can develop in an athlete, over a short period of time, quite incomparable to other sports. Most open-water swimmers attest to gaining better mental calmness and tranquility. Elaborating further, there are several consequential benefits with which this serendipity is equipped - lower rates of depression (in some cases even reduction in depression) and better control over anxiety too.
In my own experience with sea swimming, I could sense the serenity of the deep sea against the instinct to survive in me balancing out beautifully. Aside from this, the physical gains are plenty too. This sport helps to thoroughly utilize every muscle while minimizing the chances of injury. Swimming itself engages your core smoothly causing accelerated muscle development without any extra effort. Additionally, it cultivates excellent cardiovascular strength, far more than any on-land cardio workout can provide. All in all, it is an adventure, a challenging one at that - without side railings to rest upon, even experienced swimmers find open water swimming more demanding, and hence, more rewarding.
How to proceed?
What may cause the most hesitation among beginner triathletes or swimmers is fear. Fear of the open water is valid, surely, but quite exaggerated.
“If the ocean can calm itself, so can you. We are both salt water mixed with air.” ~Nayyirah Waheed.
This fear can easily be conquered with a few pointers to follow while starting.
● Start slow.
It helps vastly when you start with familiar waters. Swimming in an area in which you are comfortable, with people that have experience and knowledge about OWS is crucial to calm yourself down. If you need any help finding such groups, you can talk to your local swimming pools, or even find communities on facebook and other similar sites.
● Find a coach/guide.
It is imperative to have proper guidance while starting something new. An experienced coach can build your confidence and help manage any anxiety or apprehension you may feel. Furthermore, your coach may help you with a few drills and meditation exercises that can further improve your practice. Local, supervised triathlons and open-water swimming tournaments will also be more accessible to you through a coach.
● Use a swim buoy.
A swim buoy is a bright float that serves the pivotal function of making you visible. It is a requirement in almost every major race.
● Never disregard the lifeguard’s instructions:
As exciting as it may be to immerse oneself so deeply in natural waters, never underestimate the force of the currents. If any warning or red flag is put in your area of practice, do not enter the waters. Safely and respectfully reschedule.
Even though the trend for loose swimsuits and swim shorts is rising, a tight knee-length suit is best for general use. Along with this a bright-coloured cap and a pair of well-fitted goggles optimize your ensemble. Depending upon the nature of your practice and location, some changes can be introduced. For example - tri suits for triathletes, and full wetsuits for sea swimming - especially in colder areas.
The difficulty of open water swimming reduces significantly once you find a rhythm. Thereafter you can focus on your stamina and breathing techniques to improve your stroke. By far, freestyle is the most popular stroke for OWS since it requires minimal effort and can carry you through the entirety of your practice or race. Once you are used to calming yourself against the water you will soon discover that open-water swimming can be won over by understanding its rhythm
and dancing to its tune. This is analogous to what runners do to maintain their pace and stamina over long distances.
Ultimately, open-water swimming is perfect for a swimmer, an aspiring triathlete, or any individual. The health benefits are monumental, your confidence and your sense of accomplishment will skyrocket. If you find yourself still in doubt, remember - just keep swimming!