Outdoor swimming – so what’s new?

Barely a day goes but I read a new article about wild swimming, outdoor swimming, or swimming outside. There seem to be more and more TV programmes about it, too. Whatever you call it, it’s just swimming, surely?

A conversation on an online forum prompted me to have a good old think about this. I appreciate why TV, newspaper supplements and magazines have gone wild for outdoor swimming in the past few years. It’s a growing trend, and there’s a lot of hype about it. If I didn’t understand why various media are documenting the hype, I’d be a pretty useless journalist 😉

But. Is it really anything new? Does it really need a label? Isn’t it just, well, swimming?

I come from a coastal town (big up da Folkestone massive) where I learned to swim in a pool, swam for a local squad but also swam in the sea. I called all of these things “going swimming”. In Folkestone, there was more than one hardy octogenarian famed throughout the Shire for swimming in the sea 365 days of the year and then, of course, there was the annual New Year’s Day Dip. And Folkestone’s not alone: go to any seaside community and it won’t take you long to locate the old-timer who swears by his (or her) daily dip in the briney.

I daresay towns with a river or lake in them are the same. The bottom line is, people have been swimming outside for a lot longer than they’ve been swimming in indoor pools. There was a time (sigh) when most major towns – and a lot of small ones – would have some sort of outdoor swimming pool. The oldest swimming clubs in the country include the South London Swimming Club (founded in 1906 and based at the beautiful Tooting Bec Lido) and Farleigh and District SC (a river swimming club, founded in the 1930s).

Do you swim outside? How do you refer to it? Do you feel the need for the activity to have a label, or is it just swimming, as it’s always been?


9 Responses to Outdoor swimming – so what’s new?

  1. Clare says:

    I agree, I grew up on the coast and, like you, I learned to swim in a pool and joined the swimming team but swimming in the sea was a very big part of my life. It was just what you did, none of this fancy ‘wild swimming’ lark, it was just swimming in the sea!


  2. Chris Ayriss says:

    We are a funny lot here in Britain. We invented the seaside holiday and encouraged all to get healthy and clean by swimming in rivers, lakes and the sea. Then we decided that natural inland water was polluted and turned our back on swimming in the great outdoors, only to later rediscover the joys of swimming outside, renaming it wild-swimming. Read: HUNG OUT TO DRY Swimming and British Culture, and discover the history of this great British fascination.


  3. […] Outdoor swimming – so what's new? « The fitness industry's copywriter […]


  4. It was always just swimming when I grew up, but wild swimming does sound appealing romantic. If it gets people back in the water, I don’t mind.


  5. Chris Price says:

    Couldn’t agree more. It’s all swimming. And swimming in the sea or river is just what we did before there were pools! It’s not like Roger Deakin invented Wild Swimming although I think he realised – ahead of many others -in this day and age there is a spiritual need to get back in natural water to remind us that there is a world away from computers, fast cars, planes etc as well as chlorinated pools and gyms. Without sounding too much like a hippy, it’s about connecting with the environment in much the same way as hill walking. Though no one calls this wild walking do they?


  6. thefitwriter says:

    Thanks for the input everyone 🙂

    Chris – funny you should mention wild walking, as that’s exactly the point someone made on the forum thread I mention in this blog post. Is there another name for ‘walking outside which isn’t on hills or fells’? Actually yes I suppose there is: rambling!


  7. Nicola says:

    This is a fascinating debate: I do wonder sometimes if there is a tendency to make simple things more ‘sophisticated’ and ‘professional’ and is this a way of making activities more ‘exclusive’? – eg when I go out for a walk I put on an extra layer of clothing, and when I go out on my bike for a cycle ride I tuck my trousers in my socks and that’s about it – but then I’ve pretty low ambitions! The swimming thing is interesting and it is clear that there are loads of people just getting on with enjoying their outdoor swimming as they have always done and they’re probably dreading the crowds descending on them when all these wild water swimming stories spread around. All the best and thanks for raising this. http://community.lincolnshire.gov.uk/blueskyswimming/


  8. Natalie says:

    Swimming is just swimming – sadly I’m not super hardy and am not fond of swimming in the sea when its cold, but then again, if I will eschew wetsuits as namby pamby nonsense, then so be it!! Actually it is lovely on the coast at the moment, windy but quite warm. My companion has not been of the same mind set so unfortunately I have yet to don my bikini this summer and splash in the Atlantic, but I will… and I’ll feel wild doing it!!


  9. OK nice to see- interesting comments are always helpful!


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