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How sociable is swimming?

I was recently approached by a research student to do an interview about the social impact of outdoor swimming events. We already know, from surveys we’ve done, that outdoor swimming as an activity can be very social, but what about events themselves? What role do they play in the social aspects of swimming? After giving it some thought, I concluded that outdoor swimming events are social opportunities on three levels.

Firstly, when I look at events I want to do, I don’t just look at the distance and location, I also think about who I can persuade to come with me. This might be my family (particularly if the location is somewhere special) or people I regularly train with, who would join me for the swim. It’s also the case that many of the swims I’ve done are ones that other people I know have signed up for and have asked me to come along. I sometimes go to swims on my own, but I definitely prefer to go with other people.

The second level is the people I meet repeatedly at events (you know who you are). These meetings are rarely arranged in advance. I don’t normally check entry lists before I travel, so it’s always a pleasant surprise to bump into a friendly face, especially if I’ve gone to an event on my own or it’s in another country. Some of these people I may see several times a year and others perhaps once every few years. In between, I keep track through social media.

Thirdly, are the people we meet just once, the ones we talk to in the queue for the toilets or the stranger we ask to help us zip up our wetsuit. The majority of people I meet are friendly and helpful and I am confident that almost any event I go to there will be someone to talk to and share the experience with, even if I’m on my own and there is no one there I already know.

I don’t know if this matches other swimmers’ experiences of swimming events, but it does suggest to me that the importance of the social side of events is often overlooked. We talk about taking on challenges and seem to make an unnecessary fuss about how fast or slow we swim but perhaps the most important aspect is how we connect with other people.

Event organisers can help support the social side of events by, for example, ensuring there is a good place to watch the swim for friends and family, creating spaces where swimmers can mingle and linger, and holding inclusive post swim prize giving ceremonies with raffles where all participants have a chance to win something, not just the fastest.

What do you think?

Swimmers, a research team from Leeds Beckett University would be very interested in your views on the social impact of open water swimming events and have put together a questionnaire on the subject, which took me just over 10 minutes to complete. The results will primarily be used for a master’s student final dissertation. We also hope we can share a summary later in the year through Outdoor Swimmer. They’d be very grateful for your contribution if you could complete the survey. The survey will run until mid August 2018.

Please see: https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/B6GEX/

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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.