Are Open Water Swimmers Watermen?

Are Open Water Swimmers Watermen?

To answer that question, we first must understand what is a waterman, a term used frequently in the surfing world?

Watermen – or its feminine equivalent, waterwomen – are individuals who are considered by their peers and the marine sports community to be well-adept, experienced and highly skilled in various marine sports and aquatic activities, performed safely and courageously in myriad conditions.

Their abilities are matched by their passion and comfort levels in the ocean. They surf, swim, paddle, kayak, body surf, boat, and dive. They can do rowing, fishing, stand-up paddling, surf lifesaving, lifeguarding, kite sailing and windsurfing.

While they may not be equally adept at all of these activities, they are not afraid to try all of them. They smile at adventure and welcome new challenges to test their limits.

True watermen and waterwomen are also humble with a personality that screams inclusiveness and appreciation for the ocean. They are simultaneously fearless and constantly respectful of rough water conditions and big-wave surf. While they accept the inherent risks of the ocean, they take safety in the water – for themselves and others – very seriously. They understand how to read the ocean and have an inherent feel for what to expect based on the weather, winds, tides, currents and swells. Their thoughts, as evidenced by their actions, are never far away from a deeply embedded connection with the ocean.

It is a moniker that is not obtained overnight or even with one or two good seasons of sporting accomplishments. It is a label that is an accumulation of concrete actions, some done in the public limelight, some conducted behind the scenes, some demonstrated in one-on-one interactions. Their words spoken in public are echoed by conversations done in private that unfailingly demonstrate their love of the open water.

And many of them also strive to improve water resources, reduce water pollution, and protect the environment and water species from over-exploitation.

But waterman and waterwomen are descriptions that cannot be self-appointed. They are well-deserved titles conveyed by others, not taken selfishly. They are truly honorific labels that are entirely dependent upon the opinion of one’s peers.

So a waterman or waterwomen in the open water swimming world can be described as an individual who is schooled and skilled in a variety of open water activities from swimming to observing, from kayaking to paddling, from navigating to reading charts, from organizing to documenting, from swimming in cold to swimming in warm, from swimming in tranquil lakes to swimming in rough oceans, from short pier swims to long marathon swims.

They are individuals who selflessly volunteer to help others and are constantly sharing their passion through words and deeds. They not only teach others, but they also inspire many. They lead by example without a need to shout to the masses. Like dolphins, they need water. Like sharks, they are constantly on the move in water.

Individuals like Grace van der Byl, Shane Gould, Megan Melgaard, Ky Hurst, Kenny Rust, Bruckner Chase, and Nino Fazio immediately come to mind. Humble heroes.

Copyright © 2012 by World Open Water Swimming Association