What Is An Open Water Swimmer?

What Is An Open Water Swimmer?

It is obviously a channel swimmer. Also a marathon swimmer. But it is also a person who does a Polar Bear Swim and a lifeguard competition.

It is also a multi-sport athlete or triathlete, at least those who do triathlons with a swim leg in an open body of water.

It is also someone who swims in oceans, lakes, rivers, bays, estuaries, seas, dams, reservoirs, canals, channels, fjords, basins, lochs, coves, meres, firths, sounds, straits, bays and harbors for simply their own pleasure, fitness or adventure. It is a person who braves the cold waters without a wetsuit or neoprene cap. It is also the person who enjoys tropical waters, rough water and the tranquil calm of a wadi.

Open Water Source has documented 108 countries around the world that conduct sanctioned open water swimming competitions. Of these 108 countries with open water swims, only 42 countries send their athletes to international competitions (e.g., FINA World Swimming Championships). This leaves 66 countries that have domestic-only competitions – and another 96 countries around the world that have open water swimming traditions, but no formalized open water swimming competitions.

Some countries, like Japan, have had documented open water swimming competitions for over 2,000 years. Some countries, like Samoa, have had ocean swimming traditions dating back 3,000 years.

Whether it is called rough water swimming, long-distance swimming, marathon swimming, free swimming, wild swimming, night swimming, expedition swimming, channel swimming, swim trekking, open water orienteering, cold water swimming, winter swimming, ice swimming or extreme swimming, people do open water swimming all over the world all throughout the year.

The traditions, scope, types and enthusiasts of open water swimming are vast – and growing since its formal inclusion in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

As described in the book Open Water Swimming, “People throughout history have feared swimming in natural bodies of water. The open water has been considered mysterious, a place where safety is not guaranteed. Oceans are filled with the unknown, and shorelines create natural boundaries. For millennia, people have believed that the depths of the oceans are best observed from the deck of a ship rather than being a resource to be enjoyed.

But the fear of the open water has been largely transformed over the last century. Many people now embrace it as a place to explore and test their physical and psychological limits.

Whereas the open water was once the province of only sailors and fisherman, it now offers a strong allure to swimmers of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds. The fear of the unknown has been replaced by its challenge.

Channels and lakes, once traversed only by boats, are now regularly crossed by swimmers without trepidation. Rivers and bays once primarily used for commercial shipping are now popular venues for fitness and competition. Previously, the open water was something to avoid; it is now fully embraced by those who accept its challenges

Excerpt courtesy of Human Kinetics.

Photo of Nicholas Caine.

Copyright © 2011 by Open Water Source
Steven Munatones