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How to swim safely with weeds

“You will get dragged down by weeds!” Just one of many anxious thoughts that might go through a swimmer’s mind before taking the plunge. Simon Griffiths has your myth busting guide to swimming safely with weeds.

There is something about being in open water that nags on your subconscious. However comfortable you are in the water, and however competent you are at swimming, somewhere in the dark recess of your mind is a voice that says you don’t really belong here.

Normally, that voice is quiet and can be ignored. But if something brushes against your leg, or your hand touches something unexpected, it might shout at you, sending you into a panic.

Water plants can easily be the source of that panic. I don’t know where the myth that plants can drag you down came from, but it’s easy to understand why we might think they could. If you’ve ever accidentally plunged your arm into a clump of pond weed and then tried to lift it vertically out of the water as panic takes hold, you’ll know what I mean. Your arm is so firmly anchored to the water, it truly does feel as if it’s being pulled down.

Did you know?

The yellow waterlily (Nuphar lutea) can be spotted in rivers, ponds and lakes at the water’s edge. They grow in slower moving water. It flowers during the summer, from June to September, and smells like the dregs of wine.

simon griffiths, outdoor swimmer

Luckily, water plants won’t drag you to your doom. The way to escape their clutches is to calmly extract your limb. Just slide your arm back out, the same way it went in. Then swim around the offending plants. If you can’t avoid a patch of pond weed, stay relaxed as you swim over them. Gently push the plants aside rather than forcing your way through. Try to stay as horizontal and near the surface as you can and keep both your arm pull and leg movements shallow.

The danger with an encounter with weeds is that you panic, even when you rationally understand you are not in danger. Our brains don’t work like that. The good news is that the more you swim and encounter water plants, the less likely they are to make you panic. Instead, you come to appreciate their beauty as they reach for sunlight near the surface and sway with the changing currents.

Although they won’t drag you down, it’s usually better to steer clear of areas with thickly growing plants. Apart from making swimming more difficult, contact may irritate the skin in some people, and you’re more likely to encounter the parasitic larvae that cause swimmer’s itch. Stick to deeper water to avoid the plants, not because they will drag you down but because it’s usually more pleasant.

This myth buster is an extract from the July edition of Outdoor Swimmer. Want us to bust an outdoor swimming myth? Email editor@outdoorswimmer.com

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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.