Is Open Water Nearing Its Tipping Point?

Is Open Water Nearing Its Tipping Point?

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Perhaps not yet, but it is coming soon. We believe the tipping point has already occurred in Great Britain and other countries will soon follow.

A tipping point is when the momentum for change becomes unstoppable and was defined by Morton Grodzins as the moment of critical mass…the threshold…the boiling point.

As we observe and report on all the different and amazing open water swimming events in 2010 – from unprecedented solo swims and the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim to Polar Bear swims and mass participation events of over 25,000 people – we believe open water swimming’s moment of critical mass is coming soon.

In fact, it may have already occurred in Great Britain with its sudden rise in participants, events, media exposure, corporate sponsorship, new vendors and, most importantly, buzz and heroes/heroines of all ages, abilities and backgrounds.

If we look at any new sport over the last 30 years – triathlons, snowboarding or extreme sports like big-wave surfing – the model seems to be similar:

In phase 1, the niche hard-core enthusiasts do the sport…they enjoy the sport outside the established governing bodies and completely outside the radar of the establishment and media.

In phase 2, the sport slowly and quietly catches on, meandering and experimenting its way with rules, regulations, equipment, traditions and venues.

In phase 3, a growing number of early adopters, anxious to try something new, fun and challenging, start to create a little underground buzz.

In phase 4, something different, something unusual, something mind-boggling catches the public’s attention. It could be someone like Julie Moss attempting to cross the finish line at the 1982 Hawaiian Ironman on American television. It could like the rash of underground videos filmed in skateboard parks in Southern California. It could be like rumors of giant waves caught offshore. But something ignites the public’s fancy and the media perks up.

In phase 5, the new sport takes off. Small vendors (e.g., Morey boogie boards, Burton snowboards, Quintaro Roo wetsuits, triathlon aerobars) step in where the established giants sleep. Media and event organizers start to feed the public’s demand as cutting-edge race organizers and athletes take leadership roles in the sport and the new sport takes a life of its own.

The time is now. Enjoy our growth.

Photo of the Acapulco 5K International Swim.

Copyright © 2010 by World Open Water Swimming Association