Over the Summer of 2018 some patient swimmers, event managers and business owners let me pick their brains as I trailed around after them on the open water circuit to conduct a masters research project into the social impact of swimming events. In addition, I received hundreds of responses to my online survey on the same topic thanks, in part, to Outdoor Swimmer magazine and its readers.
This was one of the first studies of its kind and enabled me to gain further insight into how the sport of open water swimming that we all love so much can shape and form a swimmer’s social life, and how events contribute to the sociability of this sport as a whole.
So what did the swimmers have to say?
Making the decision to jump into the water at an event whether it’s your first or your fiftieth can be scary. Mass starts can put people off even considering entering events. However, the swimmers I spoke to pointed to the strong camaraderie and team spirit that events build amongst swimmers to take on the challenge, combat pre-race anxiety, and be collectively triumphant, whatever your experience level. For example:
- “It isn't just the swimming that people like, it's the whole kind of getting to the swims, planning the swims...you know... I think it’s the whole being part of something.”
- “Most of the social barriers to talking to strangers seem to be lowered as there seems to be a ‘we are in this together’ feeling present.”
- “We appreciate the effort we have each made, the fears we have overcome and the struggles ahead. That creates a wonderful camaraderie.”
- “...it's not just who you go with it's who you meet when you're there. If you've had 4, 5 days together then you tend to keep in touch and swapping ideas about where you might go and then meeting up with people.”
Events: something extra?
The sport of open water swimming is undoubtedly sociable. I know many people (myself included) who live for those early Saturday mornings with the same cold-water prone bunch of people and the opportunity to meet like-minded swimmers. However, events appear to add that little something extra primarily due to taking on a collective challenge and a sociable atmosphere that helps to combat the fear that a first-time entrant or even an experienced swimmer may feel. Sharing those swimming experiences with like-minded participants and friends forms bonds between participants and, the study found, also strengthened existing relationships and the camaraderie amongst groups of swimmers. Without open water events it seems that the world of open water swimming would be a less social space. Events are a great way for swimmers across all abilities and age groups to connect.
This study was small in the grand scale of how open water swimming as a sport is currently growing in the UK. It did however give further food for thought. Notably on how the friendships formed through open water swimming and the nature of the sport itself have a positive influence on mental health, as well as how online communities of swimmers are becoming increasingly connected through social media. There is great scope for further study that could actively input into the development and growth of open water swimming and its plethora of events.
What can swimming events do for you?
- Are a great way to meet other swimmers
- Can help you integrate into the social world of open water swimming
- May give you confidence to take on bigger outdoor challenges
- Are a good way to enter into the camaraderie of open water swimming as a sport