Sounds of swimmers

Swimmers love a story. We love to read swimming books, hear about swimming adventures from friends, see our hobby in the national media and share a tale or two of our own. We also love swim stories at Outdoor Swimmer, it is what makes the magazine special each month, the variety of people who take to the water, for all sorts of reasons and in all sorts of ways. It is no surprise that watery tales have found their way onto podcasts and that there are now specific podcasts that celebrate outdoor swimming. The Swim Wild podcast was one of the first, which was launched in September 2018, created and presented by Karen Parry.

Click below to listen to the Outdoor Swimmer team chat with Karen on the Swim Wild podcast:

“The stories and people who really stand out are the people I really gel with,” says Karen. “I meet a lot of people in car parks, sometimes I just know from the minute I meet them I need to get the microphone set up or I will be missing great stuff.” As Karen explains this to me, I am nodding in furious agreement. We laugh at the correlation. “It is really funny being on the other end of an interview,” she says.

Karen was captured by outdoor swimming after a visit to the Lake District when the Great North Swim was on. “I had just completed the Over The Moon walk in Edinburgh, which is a double marathon challenge that you walk and have to complete in 14 hours,” says Karen. “With me everything has to be bigger, faster, higher or longer. I am very much an endurance kind of person. I was in the Lake District to recuperate and was mesmerised by all these people wondering around in neoprene with massive grins and lots of energy and I thought, this is my next thing.” Karen signed up for the swim the following year and then completed an introduction to outdoor swimming with Swim the Lakes. “It was glorious, I felt very confident,” she says. “But then I joined a weekend swim during the Keswick Mountain Festival and the conditions were very different, with four-foot waves! I realised then that being a swimmer and being an open water swimmer are entirely different things.”

Karen completed her Great North Swim challenge the following year and then developed a love for skins swimming. She now swims regularly with pals from the Fausto Bathing Club, who swim at Roker Beach on Sundays and Thursdays, and with a sub-group who swim daily at sunrise off Seaburn beach. “We are so lucky, we have some of the most beautiful sunrises,” says Karen. “Pods of dolphins and seals, pretty magical.”

Evolving her love of swimming into a podcast came after Karen was suffering a spell of insomnia. She would wake daily between three and four in the morning and with tummy-flip anxiety that would make her brain whirr. “I started to look for things to distract my mind during the night,” she says. “I got a little light to attach to books to read, that didn’t work. Then I started watch TV on my iPad with headphones, but I read that was bad for people who can’t sleep. Then I discovered podcasts. I read about one called the Guilty Feminist and would listen at night and on my commute. Then one morning, l woke up with a proper lightbulb moment, that I could do a podcast about wild swimming. It is such an accessible and democratic medium.” After some research, she realised there were no podcasts like it and spent some time learning how she could create her own. “I wanted to interview a different person on each episode. I wanted it to be very inclusive, so it didn’t matter whether you had only ever done one swim, about to do your first swim or you had done multiple channel crossings. It doesn’t matter what you wear, or where you swim, I was after people’s stories and why swimming was a thing for them.”

The podcast is now in its third series and has featured a mix of marathon swimmers like Beth French, well known swimmers like Lyndsey Cole and popular swimmers like Suzanna Cruickshank. “What is really beautiful is that everybody has unwittingly taught me something,” says Karen. “I am quite an introspective, reflective kind of person. I would listen to a guest talking, then go back a week later to edit our conversation and there would always be a nugget in there. Almost like the universe had brought this person to me to give me a message. These lessons have always felt like a massive gift to me, I have taken those things, reflected and grown myself as a person as a result.” Of course, Karen has a list of dream guests, which includes four-way English Channel swimmer, Sarah Thomas. “I have always wanted the podcast to be mostly about ordinary swimmers with just a couple of superhuman swimmers like Sarah mixed in,” says Karen. “I think what is great is that people recognise their own experience in what guests say on the podcast. To hear people being brave and those listening to think, ‘oh good it is not just me who feels like that’.”

Want to listen? Search Wild Swim Podcast on whichever digital platform you use.

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Ella is renowned outdoor swimmer and journalist. As well as leading the editorial, digital and experiential outputs for Outdoor Swimmer she is also Director of Dip Advisor, a swim guiding business helping people enjoy wild water. Ella also teaches swimming to children and adults, is an Open Water Coach and RLSS Open Water Lifeguard.