FEATURES,  View from the Water

Nine years in outdoor swimming and still going strong

I launched Outdoor Swimmer magazine (H2Open as it was known then) in February 2011 – nine years (and 75 issues) ago this month. It’s been an amazing journey, both as a publisher and a swimmer, and it’s been (and still is) a fantastic time to be part of the wonderful global outdoor swimming community, which has grown and evolved massively in that time.

There was, of course, a time when swimming in natural bodies of water was the only way to swim, long distance swimming was a popular sport and its champions were heroes. Then, along came swimming pools with clear, warm, disinfected water, which pulled us away from open water. The move was hastened by concerns about water quality and a risk-averse safety culture. Swimming outside, except at life-guarded beaches or on holiday, became an unusual, even eccentric, thing to do.

Luckily, not all swimmers were herded into the confines of the pool and some managed to keep alive our connection to open water. It’s thanks to those swimmers, and the events they organised, the swimming spots they kept open or the books they wrote, that swimming outside survived and eventually started growing again in popularity. It’s come so far now that we’ve seen articles in the mainstream media protesting about it.

Swimming has always been important to me and part of my life. What’s become abundantly clear to me in nine years of publishing is how much it means to so many people. One of the things I’m most proud of with Outdoor Swimmer is that we’ve created a platform for swimmers to share their inspirational stories.

Publishing Outdoor Swimmer has also encouraged me to push my own swimming boundaries. I’ve tried swimming in near freezing water, which, I confess, I don’t really enjoy but I understand the appeal. I’ve done long distance swims in cool water without a wetsuit and confirmed what I’ve always suspected – that I’m not good at keeping warm. And I’ve had fun racing over a range of distances, in wildly varying conditions and in many different places.

I’ve been incredibly lucky with Outdoor Swimmer in finding brilliant people to work with – publishing a magazine would be impossible without them. The current team is no exception. Jonathan, as editor, led us through a rebranding three years ago and a more than doubling of our print subscriber numbers since then. Working alongside him as contributing editor is Ella, who travels the length and breadth of the country meeting and swimming with fascinating people and sharing their stories. They’ve recently been joined by Luke, who has limited swimming experience but who’s gamely taken on some big swimming challenges this year as well as overhauling our social media activity. Then we have Jo, who goes above and beyond her role in advertising sales and throws herself into all parts of the business from organising subscriber experiences to producing editorial content. Less visible to our readers but doing a brilliant job in looking after our commercial partners is Sharon, while behind the scenes Stuart in operations stops the business unravelling. Another recent addition to the team is Yvonne, who looks after business development and keeps us all organised. The impact of Juliet, our designer, can be seen on every page. Outside of our core team, we have a fabulous line up of contributors, too numerous to list but familiar to regular readers, who continuously create fresh, informed and original content.

However, I’m most grateful to our community of readers. Without you, there would be no magazine. Not only do you buy Outdoor Swimmer and read it, many of you send us your letters and pictures and tell us about your swimming experiences. You suggest article ideas. Some of you have written articles for us. We strive to be a magazine for anyone who swims outside, whatever type of swimming you like to do, and we work hard to publish content that’s helpful and inspiring for all of you – and you certainly inspire us.

I’m well aware that there is almost unlimited free content about outdoor swimming on the internet. Printing a magazine and expecting readers to pay for it in that kind of environment is certainly challenging. I do it because I far prefer to read on paper than a screen. It’s more relaxing and I remember more of it. I love the smell of ink on freshly printed pages and the feel of paper between my fingers. Reading, like swimming, is best when it’s a physical as well as a mental exercise. Luckily, enough of you value the additional effort and expense involved in printing and posting out magazines to make it worthwhile.

In 2020, outdoor swimming is in good health. I like to think Outdoor Swimmer has played a small part in that. There are new events to try, more places opening up for swimming, different swimming holiday options to explore and original products being launched. There are hundreds of groups around the world welcoming ever more swimmers to join them.

I feel extremely lucky to be part of such a diverse, vibrant and friendly global community, and I’m looking forward to the next nine years of swimming and publishing.

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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.