View from the Water

Joanne Jones Helen Webster

Simon Griffiths looks at trends in outdoor swimming in 2019

At the end of April, we invited people from across the world of outdoor swimming to a networking morning at the wonderful Thames Lido in Reading. Our aim was to find out what those at the coal face think is happening in the world of outdoor swimming.

Quite a lot it seems.

Guests included: champion swimmers Keri-anne Payne and Cassandra Patten; organisations including Swim England, NOWCA, RLSS and the Outdoor Swimming Society; and a mixture of suppliers and service providers.

The big theme was growth, and what does that mean for all of us, especially where safety is concerned. Other issues include regulation, gender balance in outdoor swimming and the environment.

Regarding growth, everyone agrees it’s happening. Race entries are up, there are more swimmers at venues and previously-secret wild swimming spots are no longer secret. The trouble is, nobody knows how many outdoor swimmers there are – we don’t like to be counted! However, Swim England believe that when new data is available from Sport England, it will show a significant increase in outdoor swimming.

More people swimming is good. It’s good for those taking up swimming and it should be good for those of us who already swim, although there are some potential risks – more on that later.

The main concern of all those present, is how do we help these new swimmers stay safe? There is already guidance out there. The Outdoor Swimming Society has done great work on this. We also have guidelines on our website as do the RLSS and Swim England.

As a result of our discussions, we’re looking at how all these groups can work together to spread the safety messages as widely as possible.

Growth in outdoor swimming has also created life-changing opportunities for people. For example, Keri-anne Payne has helped more than 50 people qualify as open water swimming coaches, creating new professional pathways and several businesses (including ours) only exist because of it.

Another consequence is increased attention from sports governing bodies and national charities, which some people fear may lead to well-intentioned but possibly over-zealous regulations and standards. See View from the Water in our May issue for more on this topic. Personally, I think swimmers will always find a way to swim wild and free and if we work together with these organisations, we may find their resources and connections help open up even more outdoor swimming spots.

The question of gender balance provoked an interesting discussion. Our readership surveys tell us around 55% of you are women. Event organisers report similar gender ratios. However, NOWCA, which runs a lake management system, says only around 33% of its users are women. One possible explanation is that NOWCA membership is skewed towards triathlon, which is more male orientated. However, this is a subject that could be investigated further. For example, are women avoiding some venues?

Finally, it seems outdoor swimmers, as consumers voting with their wallets and purses, are making a difference. One business told the meeting that decreasing their environmental impact at all stages in their supply chain – from source materials through to product packaging – was no longer a nice-to-have but a business imperative.
As ever, we love to hear from our readers. If you’ve spotted trends or things you think we should know about in outdoor swimming, please let us know.

Simon Griffiths is the founder and publisher of Outdoor Swimmer

Email Simon at:

Image: Outdoor Swimmer’s Joanne Jones and 220 Triathlon’s Helen Webster enjoying a dip before serious discussions got underway

Credit: Katia Vastiau

01 Cover July

Issue 40 July 2020

  • Wild swimming in central England - our favourite spots
  • Mind the gap - socially distanced coaching
  • Racism in swimming
  • A history of other Olympic games disrupted by world events
  • Tried & tested - kit reviews of wetsuits, shoes and more!

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