EXTRA,  FEATURES,  September 2023

What’s your swim tribe?

It takes all sorts to make up our wonderful open water swimming community. Whether you are a dipper or a marathon swimmer, there’s nowt so queer as swimming folk, says Jonathan Cowie.

The cold water guru

This character wear shorts and sandals all through the winter and hasn’t had a hot shower or bath for four years. If you go to their house don’t expect them to ever put the heating on – instead they will invite you to take an ice bath in their garden, even if it’s dark and raining. If you go swimming with them remember to allow time for their extensive pre-swim breathwork routine and a lecture about your amygdala. What’s your amygdala? Whatever you do, don’t ask them that. 

The social media influencer

Has a swim even happened if it hasn’t been photographed, filtered, hashtagged and uploaded to Instagram? If you swim with a social media influencer, don’t bank on spending much time swimming. Instead you will be dragged around for hours as they look for the perfect view and camera angle for their swimming photo shoot. Expect them to gaze pensively at waterfalls, jump off jetties multiple times to capture the perfect dive, and always wear a swimming costume that they have been “gifted”. When uploaded to Instagram the photos will have captions like: “Nature is my reset button. #brandambassador.”

The cake pusher

Our kind of swimmer – the sweet social glue of any swim group. Wherever they swim bountiful cakes appear as if by magic, perhaps a lemon drizzle stowed away in a tow float or a fruit cake hidden in the pocket of a changing robe. Delicious. 

The injured triathlete

Often the lone wetsuit in a shoal of skins swimmers, the injured triathlete is here under duress until the injury sustained running or cycling allows them to return to the preferred two of their three disciplines. Will never remove their wetsuit, even in the height of summer, and is constantly perplexed why no one has hypothermia. They possess a full kit bag of very expensive gear and will politely decline cake in favour of an energy gel. 

The gear junkie

A close relation to the injured triathlete, the gear junkie has so much kit that it is a wonder they can walk to their swim spot. In winter they have been known to collapse under the weight of their changing robe, merino layers, wearable hot water bottles, Japanese stomach warmers, extra-long and thick socks and double-layered bobble hats with interchangeable bobbles depending on mood. They wear a pair of computerised goggles that would display real-time data in front of their very eyes if only they knew how to turn them on. 

The Dryrobe fashionista

Hey good looking, swanning around our trendier urban suburbs in your natty big coat. Often spotted walking the dog on winter mornings, oat milk flat white in hand, nowhere near water. Not actually a swimmer. 

The long distance swimmer 

This veteran swimmer has the English Channel in their sights and lives by the motto ‘Nothing great is easy’. If you swim with them expect them to still be swimming while you are warm and dry and sat on shore drinking your coffee and eating cake. Usually found in Dover harbour, apart from when they give themselves a weekend off to go up north and swim the length of Windermere.

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Jonathan is a year-round skins swimmer with a particular love of very cold water. He has competed in ice swimming competitions around the world. He is a qualified open water coach with a particular love of introducing new swimmers to the open water.