Swim Bits – July 2021


We in the US have not been aware of it very much, but swimming outdoors in rivers, lakes, ponds, the oceans, etc., is called “wild swimming” in the British Isles, and there is a long tradition there of swimming all year around everywhere.

Here in the US we have always had a few groups who have done the same, notably in San Francisco Bay or warmer places such as Florida, Hawaii and Southern California.  In Oregon most outdoor open water swimming has been focused on USMS and OMS events, but there have been regular groups in Bend and on the coast who have regularly swum “wild,” mostly when the water temperature gets above 60°F.

At Eel Lake we have started as soon as April like last year.  This year we waited until late May before most ventured into low 60°F water.  We have often been able to swim into late October at Eel.  Last year two swimmers were still swimming there in November, though the water was below 60°F, and one of those swimmers never stopped all winter.

On one level, wild swimming (I’ll no longer use quotation marks around the words.) seems to be becoming a fad.  On another level, COVID has forced many of us to reconsider where we will swim when pools are closed.  Wild swimming may be the only option.

With that in mind, I checked the Internet for information on wild swimming, and discovered many sources, most from the British Isles.  There is even an organization, called “The Outdoor Swimming Society.”  For more information on it, go to https://www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com/10-tips-for-summer-swim-safety/

At that particular section of the site, they have ten reasonable tips for beginning and practiced open water swimmers.  I’ll point out specifically #4.  “INCREASE YOUR EXPOSURE TO OPEN WATER GRADUALLY: Enter the water slowly, getting used to the temperature.  Cold water shock ‘gasp reflex’ can be triggered in water below 15°C (59°F).”

When entering the water, you can sing the song, “I walked into the water and got my ankles wet.  I walked into the water and got my knees all wet,” etc., until you are neck deep.  Splash some water on your face to avoid the “gasp reflex” mentioned above.  I then bob two to three times, blowing air out forcefully underwater to get my breathing under control.

Take your time and let your body adjust to the temperature even as you start swimming.  If you have to, roll over on your back into what we call “the otter position” until your breathing relaxes.

The fun part about wild swimming at any lake, though, is getting far enough out into the lake itself, stopping for a moment, spinning 360 degrees, and looking at the horizon while doing so.  You can stare at the South Sister at Elk Lake or the stately fir trees at Eel.  You can swim out to the vegetation islands in Tahkenitch Lake south of Florence.  Every lake is different.

Elk Lake with South Sister in Background

Elk Lake with South Sister in Background

I can also recommend the “Atlas of Oregon Lakes” website, which lists at least 205 lakes in the state.  There is a group in Corvallis that was counting how many lakes in the AOL they have swum in.  I’m up to 47, a paltry number.  See: https://oregonlakesatlas.org/map

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