Why Open Water Swimmers Do It – A Look Behind the Goggles

Why Open Water Swimmers Do It – A Look Behind the Goggles

Jim Alabiso, an open water swimmer, lifeguard and scuba diver from Northeast Florida whose a member of the Duval Ocean Swimmers. He takes a look at the motivations of open water swimmers:

When the subject of open water swimming comes up with a person unfamiliar with the sport, there is a 99% chance the person will say the shark word. Guaranteed. Then, they will ask the question, “Why do you do it?”

Open water swimming is not a close-up sport for a spectator. Onlookers may or may not see those tiny heads in a variety of different colored caps, zipping through the waves. They see us getting in and triumphantly getting out, full of endorphins, smiling faces, like we just conquered the world. What is not apparent is what is going on in those little heads far out past the breakers.

In a very real way, we are vulnerable to nature, chaotic and beautiful. Truly at her mercy. It becomes very apparent once you hit the sea with your head down in the dark water. We can strategize, optimize our stroke off a wave, a rip current or the wind, but let’s face it, we are hers. There is little visual stimuli like when we are running or biking. Even with a group of swimmers, the comfort of their presence is limited by the visual interference. You are truly alone with yourself.

We often don’t admit it but we do get spooked. It can be dark out there, cold, lonely, and you might be thinking about the food chain. This is where the challenges lie. True, it’s a lot about endurance, technique and stamina, but the real challenge is behind the goggles.

How to keep our mind true and pure? How to fend off the spooky thoughts? Do we think about jellyfish? The guy who said the shark word? Some issue at work? Our relationships? If you’re doing a long distance swim, after a few hours, it can become daunting. Controlling your head is tougher than pushing tired arms. It is in the realest sense about being in the moment. The only time is now. No fast-forwarding, no rewinding, one stroke, one breath at a time, right now. You are simply that moment. It is that moment that we are seeking. Peace and joy with the water all around us.

Some of us simply do it because it’s fun. Then there are those of us who do it because of something else. We have overcome. That is the joy.

We have overcome bad luck, some of our own making, some not. We have beat our addictions, or come out on the other side of adversity. We may simply overcome each day as we struggle through some very personal challenge. Some of us have overcome disabilities, injuries and health issues. We have reigned confident in the knowledge that we have overcome ourselves. And we did it not with our arms, but with our heads, because in the end, that’s where all victories begin, one moment at a time.
When we go back out in the water, we are challenged by the waves, the wind, the currents. More importantly, we get to challenge ourselves again, alone in the chaotic waters, and remind ourselves of our victory. It’s the road that keeps us loving ourselves and each other.

Photo shows an open water swim off Jacksonville Beach with the Duval Ocean Swimmers, ©2011 Candice Davis

Copyright © 2008 – 2011 by Jim Alabiso

Steven Munatones