OSS Ambassador Ella Foote swims through all seasons, but spring is her favourite. Here she shares her top tips for getting started this spring.
If you are new to outdoor swimming and unsure where to swim in your local area, visit the OSS crowd-sourced map. Ensure you are swim-fit by training in your local leisure centre pool first, explore a lesson or two to polish up your swimming stroke. When you are starting out find lakes, lidos and beaches that offer lifeguard support. If you are visiting a swimming spot that is more wild, ensure you know how you will exit as well as enter the water. Check for currents, tides, boat traffic and hazards. If you are unsure, don’t get in.
At the beginning, don’t swim alone, join a group. There are plenty of groups across the country, join the OSS Facebook Group to find swimmers near you. Consider joining a club. Try to find swimmers who like to swim like you do, similar ability and ambition. It is no-good joining a group of endurance swimmers if you just fancy a dip.
It is important you wear what you are comfortable swimming in. If you get cold, consider wearing a wetsuit. Gloves and booties can offer extra warmth and also protection to the soles of your feet. Wear a good quality, bright swimming hat – it will keep you warm and visible in the water. Ensure you have warm, dry clothes for after. Layers and a good waterproof/windproof coat is essential in changing weather conditions and keeping you warm. Pack a hot drink and something sweet for after. Warming up slowly from inside is key. I like to pack a change mat and my camera too, not essential but good to have.
Waiting for a warm, dry day in the British springtime will drive you mad. Don’t wait for the perfect weather, prepare and plan for the season. Swimming in the rain is such a beautiful, immersive experience. The downside is changing after. So ensure your clothes are packed away in a good dry-bag while you swim. Use the natural shelter of your surroundings to keep your kit dry. Just be aware conditions can change quickly. Heavy rain can create local flooding and faster flow. Winds can change the behaviour of coastal conditions and open lakes. Check high and low tide times, local currents and flows – ensure you know the risks and have a plan.
I often get asked how long I swim for in cooler temperatures. At this time of year the water in lakes, rivers and even the sea is cold. Be prepared for this. You don’t have to do any length of time, or significant distance. Just getting in for a few strokes and enjoying the water for a short time can give you a buzz. It can also create an appetite to do it more often and stay in longer during your next swim. Build yourself back up, acclimatise and listen to your body.
Someone once said to me, being mindful is just a fancy way of saying pay attention. There are lots of things you should be mindful of when swimming, but one that is often over looked is paying attention to yourself. Learn how your body responds to the cold and different water conditions. It is a great way to keep yourself safe. I often feel the cold more when I haven’t slept well or eaten properly that day. If I am tired I won’t attempt a swim in more challenging conditions. If a distance, temperature or current is beyond my limits I won’t put myself or those around me at risk by getting in anyway. Know yourself and treat yourself kindly in and around the water.
Jumping from rocks into deep water is a great thrill, jumping from anything into unknown water is foolish. The UK provides plenty of safe places to jump and climb around water, just make sure you know where these are and use local tourist providers to offer guidance and kit. Learn about the signs of hypothermia, rip tides and quick sand. Learn about the places you want to visit and swim before you get in. If you do your research you can get the most out of the swimming spots you discover and live to share the experience.
There is an abundance of wildlife to be found and seen across the UK, one of the best things about swimming is being able to witness nature from the water, almost unseen. Coastal swim spots provide rock pools, coves, caves and beaches to explore. Lakes are home to fish and birds, rivers provide lush green banks of vegetation and animals. Respect the natural surroundings when you visit, take your litter home, maybe even collect any litter you find on your way. Leave only footprints.
Once you start to feel more confident in a certain swimming spot, comfortable with a distance or familiar with your limits, explore! Always swim in a lake, why not find a group who swim in a river? Managed a mile, can you do a mile and a half? One of the things I love the most is gently pushing myself, leaning into my fears and trying new swimming spots. I am not a huge fan of swimming through seaweed, but I embraced the chance when visiting Orkney – the seaweed there is like an underwater paradise. Seeking new swimming spots has become a monthly goal. Set yourself your own challenge, especially as the water warms as we head towards summer.
There is no point in doing anything in life if you are not enjoying it. There is a great range of places to swim outdoors in the UK for all kinds of swimmers. Find your tribe and jump in!
For more information about getting started visit the Survive on the website.