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The subversive art of wild swimming

For a moment I stay on my back, moving at the border of air and water

Turning, Jessica J. Lee

Along rivers and coasts, a growing movement is taking shape, one that sees more and more of us drawn to the siren song of untamed waters and its transformative power. What is it about swimming outside of a pool that feels so natural yet at the same time almost subversive? The plunge into a cold river is a far cry from the neat lanes of front crawl that most of us are used to, but is equally beneficial – perhaps not in terms monitored by fitness trackers, but for our souls. 

In wild water you are on equal terms with the animal world around you: in every sense,  on the same level

Waterlog, Roger Deakin

Wading into a river, feeling the silt and stones beneath your feet, or navigating seaweed-covered rocks as the tide changes, is to become fully present with the elements. Wild swimming demands attention to the ebb and flow of the tides, the shifting skies, and the subtle cues that hint at safety or danger. We learn to respect the power of nature and surrender to its ever-changing rhythm.

The more you swim, the more you see the change in people before and after the water, the more you realise you are not alone

Leap In, Alexandra Hemingsley

The transformative nature of wild swimming extends beyond the physical – as a mood changer it is hard to beat. It has the power to reshape our moods, liberating us from the weight of expectations and societal pressures. Immersed in the untamed waters, we shed inhibitions and embrace our bodies as vessels of strength and acceptance. It is here where judgement dissolves, and our authentic selves emerge, unburdened by external influences.

The personal space gained by swimming in the solitude of wild waters allows you to see life less turbulently; free from stress and social pressures, the turmoil stills, soothing mind and body

The Mindful Art of Wild Swimming

Much has been written on the mental health benefits of wild swimming. The act of swimming, combined with natural surroundings and the sounds of water, creates a meditative experience that helps to clear the mind and cultivate a sense of inner peace. The connection with nature, the release of endorphins, and the freedom of being in the open water all contribute to a heightened sense of wellbeing.

I took myself to a place I never thought I could go, reminding myself just how much I could withstand as I witnessed body and mind rise to the challenge of cold water again and again.

Leap In, Alexandra Hemingsley

Wild swimming is not without its challenges and risks. It demands courage and a healthy respect for the power of water. Each stroke becomes a testament to our ability to face adversity head-on, embracing the unknown and emerging stronger in body and mind. It is a reminder of our resilience.

Water bonds us, dissolving barriers and diluting differences

The Mindful Art of Wild Swimming

The wild swimming community is a diverse one, woven together by the common thread of water. Swimmers gather along shores and riversides, exchanging stories, laughter, and encouragement and a bond is forged by the shared experience and a deep appreciation for the water, creating a network of connection and belonging. 

Swimming is often enhanced by company, and sometimes by solitude.

Waterlog, Roger Deakin

When we swim in the company of others, the water becomes a space of shared energy and collective delight. Yet, there are also times when the allure of solitude calls to us, offering us  the freedom to explore the depths of our thoughts and emotions. This mindful act allows us to be fully present – the sensations of cold water, the sounds of the shore  and the physical act of swimming banish the worries and distractions of everyday life.

If you are wild swimming, then please be safe by following these safety tips:

  • Pay attention:  Before entering the water, evaluate the conditions carefully. Check for strong currents, tidal changes, submerged hazards, other swimmers and boats. Be aware of weather conditions and water temperature, as they can significantly affect your safety.
  • Know your limits: Understand your swimming abilities and physical fitness level and don’t exceed your skill level or comfort zone..
  • Respect cold water: Build up gradually to swimming in colder temperatures and be aware of the signs of hypothermia. Wear appropriate protective gear, such as wetsuits, to regulate your body temperature.
  • Beware dirty water: Unfortunately our seas and waterways are not the cleanest. Check the water quality of the swimming area to ensure it’s safe for swimming especially after heavy rain as sewage or agricultural run-off can make you really sick. 
  • Know your exits: Watch out for  potential hazards such as submerged rocks and strong currents, and identify safe exit points from the water.