Why it’s OK to make a living from swimming

17 Nov 20

I saw a Facebook post today that railed bitterly against people making a profit from swimming. The accompanying comments suggested many people agreed with the original poster.

The gist of the message was that in the ‘good old days’, you learned about the joys of outdoor swimming and how to stay safe from experienced swimmers who would happily share their knowledge and advice free of charge, or maybe a piece of cake. Many people still do this of course, but the post went on to complain about commercial enterprises offering to introduce people to outdoor swimming for, shock and horror, a fee!

This is a topic that bubbles up on social media every now and then and it puzzles me why people get so upset about it. I fail to see a problem of a fair commercial arrangement between consenting and well-informed adults. I also don’t see why it is anyone’s business, apart from the people who are party to the transaction. What damage does it do me or you or outdoor swimming as an activity if one person is willing to pay another for the benefit of their advice and guidance? There is nothing unique about outdoor swimming that says it must remain exempt from commercial activity.

Sure, if you’re lucky enough to have a well paid job or a partner with a secure income, go ahead and spend your time introducing people to outdoor swimming (provided you are competent and experienced enough to do so – but that’s another topic). But what if you don’t have another job? Or maybe you do have another job but it isn’t paid that well? Or what if you’ve invested a considerable amount of money and time earning relevant qualifications such as swimming teaching, open water swimming coaching, open water lifeguarding and first aid? And what if you’ve then spent money researching safe places to take people swimming, and have carried out detailed risk assessments, and you’ve paid for professional indemnity insurance? And what if you’re providing a professional, safe, inclusive swimming experience? What if you’re lending out kit you’ve invested in? Should you still provide your services for free? Being a swimming teacher, a coach or a guide is a proper job and should be paid as such.

Swimming outdoors, especially in winter, is risky. If you get it wrong, you could die. Surely we should be welcoming the professionalisation of introducing people to outdoor swimming. Who, exactly, is being harmed? If you were going to go rock-climbing for the first time, would you rather pay for professional support, or trust your life to people you might barely know because they were having a good time and look like they’ve got a rough idea of how to scale a cliff?

Swim wild and free: definitely. But make sure you know what you’re doing first. If you have the good fortune to know people who you can trust completely to guide you on your journey, that’s fantastic. If you don’t, luckily there are now skilled, experienced and trained professionals who can help you, and they don’t charge anything like as much as lawyers or accountants.

Image (c) Basil Arden

01 Cover December

Issue 44 December 2020

  • Finding joy in 2020: Sarah Thomas looks back on a very strange year
  • Motivation: triple Olympian Keri-anne Payne on dealing with changing situations
  • UnstoppaBull: the extreme adventurer who swam in the highest lake on earth
  • Wild swimming: misadventures in the Peak District
  • Soul Cap: solving the problem of swimming with afro hair

Swim Wild and Free

Sign up to our newsletter and receive a free five-part series on the fundamentals of freestyle by Olympic silver medallist Keri-anne Payne.