Although I have previously taken a dip in the estuary by the iconic pink boat house in Bantham, technically I think last Saturday was the first time I officially swooshed… The Outdoor Swimming Society’s Bantham Swoosh in Devon is a 6km swim downstream swim from Aveton Gifford to the estuary, finishing at Bantham Beach; and the “swoosh” that builds in the final section of the swim is brought about by a tidal surge, which carries swimmers towards the sea at up to four times their usual swimming speed.
You get a timing chip, but that’s primarily used to track swimmers for safety, rather than race placings - and that is the joy of this swim - it is a down-river adventure in beautiful clear water, big skies, lush green hills, wildlife and friendship. You can also get a hot pastie and a pint at the finish. Yes. Very similar to the FINA World Championships…
And just like an elite endurance athlete I had a swim strategy: i) pose for excited but a bit scared pre-swim selfie with mates ii) get in the water iii) as instructed do head up breast stroke at the start iv) once comfortable, swim one arm in front of the other v) don’t forget to look up and enjoy the view, and vi) when you get to the swoosh, stop swimming, roll onto back and do a star float and see if you can float to the finish!
In its third year, for the first time two swim options were offered: swim at dawn or dusk - I was fortunate to be amongst the 400 adventurers swimming at dusk and so got a glow stick (to attach to my wetsuit). The event does have a chilled out festival feel; and could, perhaps, be best described as a food festival with a bit of swimming - race HQ down at Bantham Beach had a variety of food stalls - fish and chips with mushy peas, wood fired pizza oven, and, of course, cake. Key feedback to event organisers: I was particularly impressed with the mushy peas.
And we're off...
Coaches took us from race HQ up to the start and following an excellent race briefing, we headed out into the river. The first section of the swim featured a variety of river debris (plants, twigs, other swimmers etc), then the swimmers spread out and meandered along, guided by the safety crew on SUPs and support boats.
Throughout the swim the water remains pretty shallow, so you can look out for crabs and fish, and even stand up at some points and take a look at your surroundings - which I did regularly and I found myself walking along the river bed, laughing with my fellow swimmers, as seal-like, their heads popped up to take in the view; inhaling big gulps of fresh Devon air, smiling brightly and then diving back in to the lightly salty water - Joy!
For many participants this was their first open water swimming event and weaving amongst the boats in the harbour and enjoying the temperate chop of the Swoosh - it really is a swim that has everything - and a rewarding choice for novice and experienced, skins and wetsuit swimmers alike.
“The swim was a wonderful, relaxed, quite tiring and very scenic hour and 45 minutes. Around every bend, the landscape got a bit more dramatic until the sea came into view and the swoosh swept me to the end.There was a healthy range of swimming abilities and nobody seemed too fussed about competing (although I did start at the back). It was as safe as swimming 6km down open water can be and you could go at your own pace,” describes Jamie Evans for whom the Swoosh was his first outdoor swimming event.
Perhaps unsurprisingly the swoosh is gathering cult swim status, with tickets for this year selling out within 90 minutes of going on sale.
As Nicholas Johnston, owner of the Bantham Estate who annually kindly allow the Outdoor Swimming Society to hold the event on their land says it is, “A soft, gentle, family orientated event that starts the summer off nicely in a healthy and inclusive way.” However, although Johnston confirmed to Outdoor Swimmer that he is “very good at doggie paddle”, he is yet to complete the swim himself.
I stylishly star fished into the finish and enjoyed the beautiful walk up along the coastal path, which was lit by fairy lights; looking out to Burgh island as dusk fell, and feeling invigorated and excited about the potential of the horizon.
Family and friends walked proudly with their swimmers: “Go daddy, Go daddy” cheered one little girl and another supporter observed, “you can see that it is in the water that people come alive.” Very true.
This is a beautiful event. Thank you to the Outdoor Swimming Society, the volunteers and my fellow swimmers for providing such vibrant memories of my first swoosh - here’s to many more!