The East Anglia Daily Times reports: Open water swimming is growing in popularity. But as well as being enjoyable, could immersing yourself in cold water in the great outdoors be good for your health? Sheena Grant reports
“When you swim,” wrote the late, great Roger Deakin in Waterlog, his spellbinding book about wild swimming around Britain, “you feel your body for what it mostly is – water – and it begins to move with the water around it.”
For Roger, whose journey first suggested itself to him as his swam in the moat around his Suffolk home, swimming – especially outdoors – was like returning to a natural state, to experience how it was before you were born, in the safety of the womb.
He recalled illicit swims from his youth, clambering over a fence to get to the open-air pool in Diss on a sultry summer’s evening, and in the night sea at Walberswick seeing bodies “fiery with phosphorescent plankton striking through the neon waves like dragons”.
Swimming was so much more than a physical activity. There was a spiritual dimension to it too. It informed his being like the memory of dreams.
Roger was ahead of the game with his 1996 masterpiece. It’s taken the rest of us a little longer to embrace the joys – and health benefits – of outdoor swimming. But we’re getting there. Membership of the Outdoor Swimming Society has jumped from just 300 in 2006 to more than 25,000 in 2016.
Seamus Bennett, organiser of the Felixstowe Swimscapes Open Water Swimming group, has no doubt that swimming outside benefits both mental and physical health.
“It’s free and when you do it in a group like we do (which is the safest way) it is very social,” he says. “It gives people the sense of being in a community that takes in different ages, genders and backgrounds. Swimming is a great equaliser and tremendous exercise for all parts of the body.
“Being in open water gives a real feeling of freedom, challenge and achievement that you don’t really get in a pool, unless you’re swimming huge distances. It’s definitely never boring; every swim is different.
“Our group has grown every year since it started in 2012. We’ve gone from 12 to 500 (Facebook) members now. Not all of them come but the interest is there. Numbers at swims have grown too though. On a summer Saturday last year we were getting 30-40 people. This summer I suspect it could go up to 50 or 60
“On your own open water swimming is dangerous. For newcomers especially, having a group and knowing that the sea you are swimming in is safe and knowing the tides is reassuring and important. Being part of a group is more enjoyable too.”
Felixstowe Swimscapes’ summer season runs from May to October, when meets are held on Saturday mornings and Monday evenings, but some members swim all year round on a Saturday morning.
“In the summer we swim to the pier and back, which takes 60-70 minutes but people can do less than that,” says Seamus. “They can do any distance and we swim parallel to the shore so it’s easy to get out when you want to and walk back along the prom. The water quality here is good and there are no dangerous currents. We get people from all over the region who come to join us.” More…