I have definitely been tutted at by the ‘real’ outdoor swimmers when I rock up to a safe, supervised lake in my cosy wetsuit, complaining about the 18 degree water and the risk of being attacked by a swan. I definitely prefer the ease and warmth of a pool. But I am starting to feel I am the unusual one. It feels like there is a real groundswell of people discovering open water swimming – in fact during lockdown it seemed we couldn’t move for yet another article extolling its benefits. And when it turns you – it really turns you. A friend who I remember recoiling in horror when I set out to do a marathon on a paddleboard a few years ago because of what might be in the water now regularly heads down to the Thames in all seasons for a dip – in just her swim suit.
For this reason it seems Simon’s book ‘Swim Wild and Free’ has come out at just the right time. It starts off well – by hosting a forward from Alice Dearing, someone who is a brilliant advocate for open water swimming and the perfect person to introduce the book to us.
The big thing that strikes is the quality of the book. It is a guide but has the feel of a coffee table book. Much of this comes from the photography and design. The photography is really lovely; glossy and pitched perfectly for each section. It isn’t just the clarity of the shots but also the use of real swimmers and a huge range of locations. The author edits a magazine and it is easy to see this influence in the style of the book. It is laid out in an incredibly usable way. You could pick up and put down instantly and that can help with poor concentration levels when distractions come. And it is so easy to use you can flick through to find the information you might need in seconds.
There are lots of stats and facts integrated which gives it a great credibility.
The book starts by helping us get over many of the health, safety and comfort fears that we are likely to have about swimming outdoors. One activity I often do with my sport psychology athletes is a ‘What If’ plan where you pull out every single fear or worry you have and figure out how to prevent them happening. The first few chapters of this book basically does that. Every ‘what if’ that you could come up with has been considered; the cold, supervision, strokes, possible medical issues, tides and currents, cramp, stiches, weeds (this is something so many clients tell me they hate), Blue-Green algae, boats, storms, weather, water creatures (another big fear) and diseases. It tackles them all so you can make a plan for how to avoid them or to handle them if they still happen.
We then head off to learn about Wild Swimming; how to find places safe to swim, who can advise, what to wear, temperatures and into specifics for different types of swimming and at different times of the year. There are sections on how to swim with a disability, how to handle the cold, all the possible types of kit, the mental health benefits and the training you can do to become a stronger swimmer. Every single element has been included. There are even cute kit lists to check off for events and tip boxes for things like sighting or keeping goggles fog free.
The one area which felt lacking may be down to my profession – but I felt the section on mental preparation (covering visualisation, mantras, positive reminders and deep preparation) could have been much more extensive. Every other element is so in depth and there are so many ways that psychology can be used to give people a brilliant outdoor swimming experience that to limit mental preparation to just a few pages felt like a shame.
My favourite parts of the book were actually the ‘my story’ sections where an outdoor swimmer describes what their swimming means to them. It gives lots of ways to relate to others and see how it can benefit you too. Vicky shows how it helps her find tranquillity when living in a busy city, Simon loves the community he has met, Julie finds it helps give her respite from knee pain, Cath uses it to set World Records, Rosie and Caroline both turned their swimming into businesses (Swimwear and coaching), Ella talks about how graceful she feels in the water, Dan talks about how it links him into his environment, Alice swam throughout her twin pregnancy and Jonathan uses it as a way to explore as he travels to different events.
Overall this would be a really nice gift to give to someone considering open water swimming, or for yourself if you have just caught the bug and want to take it further.
It is available on Bloomsbury Sport website