EXTRA,  FEATURES,  July 2024,  View from the Water

Try other water sports to improve your swimming

Simon Griffiths shares how varying up your aquatic activities can bring many benefits your swimming, including how you read the water and boosting your core strength

I gave up swimming for a few years when I was a teenager. I broke my leg and was out of the water for several months. While swimming should have been good for rehabilitation, I became so unfit I lost the motivation to train. 

At around the same time, we had the option to try kayaking at school. I immediately fell in love with it and eventually started competing in slalom and whitewater events. 

One day, I was paddling with a couple of kayakers who were fitter and stronger than me. One of them said: “If you want to get better at kayaking, you should do more swimming. It uses similar muscles and will boost your fitness.” 

So that’s what I did. At the time, it was just pool swimming. Any open water swimming was accidental and resulted in friendly mockery from anyone I was kayaking with. Formal open water swimming didn’t start until I dabbled in triathlon in the late 1980s. 

In the meantime, I also tried windsurfing and surfing. Then, much later – but before it became as popular as it is today – stand up paddle boarding. 

I don’t claim any outstanding capabilities in these other water sports but I do know that being a strong swimmer not only gave me the confidence to try them, but also made it easier to do them. Being tipped out of your kayak or blown off your windsurf board is never pleasant. But if you’re competent in the water, you will cope much better than someone who isn’t. 

At the same time, doing these other sports helped my swimming, and especially my competence in open water. Kayaking helped me understand how currents move in rivers and how to take advantage of them. Surfing helped me read waves and swim in the sea. It’s also good for sprint training and breath holding practice. Windsurfing taught be about the interactions between wind and water. Stand up paddle boarding improved my core strength, balance and coordination. I’ve not yet tried SCUBA, freediving or snorkelling but I’ve no doubt my swim experience would help with all of those if I did, and that I would learn things that help my swimming too. 

Tackling any new activity involves a learning curve and a period of feeling useless. But as a swimmer, you already have some of the skills and strengths, and the fitness, to make quick progress. As a side benefit, you will improve your swimming. 

My advice this month then is simple: go out and have fun on the water as well as in it. 

Read our July 2024 issue to discover new ways to enjoy the water alongside swimming.

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.