In 2012 a Facebook group Laboratoire des Baignades Urbaines Expérimentales (Laboratory of Experimental Urban Swimming) called to unite more and more people in big collective splashes during hot weather in Paris. It led to the formation of an unofficial Paris Wild Swimming Group which swims, illegally, and often at night, in Parisian canals.
Alex Voyer is 38 and lives in Paris. He is a free diver, swimmer and photographer and likes to swim and “make photos” anywhere he can find water, whatever the temperature or the colour.
After shooting big animals all around the world he “found it enjoyable to create an adventure just around the corner from his flat”, which is how he began to swim in the Canal de l’Ourcq. Here he tells the story of the Paris Wild Swimming Club.
When the hot weather is coming in Paris, we like having a picnic, drinking rosé wine close to the different canals, and having a plunge between two glasses, we call this “apéro-splash”. The concept is very simple: enjoying summertime in Paris!
We don’t make it as often during winter time, perhaps once or twice every season. My first night swim in winter was in company of my good friend Laure Latham (a very good cold-swimmer from the Serpentine Club in London) who told me that she wanted to come and have a plunge in Paris. It was in November 2015, the water was around 10C, and we had a great time with the runners and pedestrians around.
I have swum almost everywhere in Paris, from the fountains to the catacombs and the Seine River, of course!
It is absolutely forbidden to swim in Paris, and you risk to have trouble with the police if you do… It is not because the Seine River is contaminated or because you may metamorphose out of the water from the Ourcq Canal, but simply because it would require the city of Paris to put in place adequate security if she allowed swimming. So, apart from an annual swimming race in the Ourcq canal swimming is forbidden.
In the Seine river in the centre of Paris the Police are now arriving in less than 5 minutes, there are cameras everywhere! We don’t want to have any trouble with police, we just want to have a good time, so the best places are the canals on the outskirts of Paris where the Police do not come and leave us doing what we want! Fortunately, our French culture has taught us to fight with authority, and that’s why we like to enjoy these beautiful waterways that are available to us!
Fortunately, our French culture has taught us to fight with authority, and that’s why we like to enjoy these beautiful waterways that are available to us!
A couple of years ago, a Facebook group called the Laboratoire des Baignades Urbaines expérimentales (Laboratory of Experimental Urban swimming) called and united more and more people in big collective splashes during hot weather in Paris. It was really fun. Of course I was swimming during these sessions, and I decided to swim more and more in the canal de l’Ourcq close to my little flat.
Now with some friends we also made a little unofficial group called “Paris Wild Swimming” and we try to organise our swimming sessions together. Since September 2016 some of us are swimming at least once a week, and one month we had to break the ice of the canal to get a plunge! I think it was about 4 years since the canal was not frozen like this. Now we are more than 5 swimmers, able to swim several minutes in a water below 3C, we would never have imagined that last September! It is an open group, as I told you before, it is officially illegal. We are all good swimmers, most of us have got rescue skills, so everybody says when he has a little time to swim and find a buddy, it is as simple as that!
We just want to say that it is possible to swim in Paris. Of course it can be dangerous, but we are adults and if we were informed we could just "swim at our own risks"
After those lasts colds swimming sessions, some of us are very motivated to participate to the next Ice-Swimming world-championships (it is not a joke, even if it looks like a “Cool Runnings” scenario).
It is also a sort of Citizen-act to go and swim in Paris, for several reasons. First, it is years that different mayors of Paris said that we would swim in Seine River, we all remember when Jacques Chirac promised in 1988 that he would swim in the Seine River (what he didn’t do, of course), and our new mayor wants to get the Seine River as an Olympic open water “pool” for 2024, we just want to say that it is possible!
On the second hand, in France, we use to live in a “Zero risk culture” and in a more and more security system and avoid anybody to do anything because it could be potentially dangerous, we just want that people to enjoy swimming in Paris as in the sea. Of course it can be dangerous, but we are adults and if we were informed we could just “swim at our own risks”!