I can’t remember a time I didn’t swim outdoors. I didn’t even realise outdoor swimming or open water was a ‘thing’. My mum used to bundle me, my siblings, various friends, and sometimes a couple of dogs, into the back of her Ford Granada estate (no child safety seats back then) and drive us off to the beach or an old water-filled quarry, and we’d spend the day roaming and swimming free.
Later, as a student, I remember hitch-hiking across Europe and swimming in lakes and rivers along the way. I then spent three years in Africa, where I frequently swam in the sea. While I’ve done plenty of other sport, swimming has always been my favourite activity for training and fitness to relaxation and the sheer joy of being in the water – and that experience is always more intense outside.
Competitive outdoor swimming came much later. Up to the age of about 13 I trained and raced with Cheltenham Swimming and Water Polo Club. Weirdly, my favourite stroke then was backstroke, which I now consider to be a “swim down” stroke. I took up (pool) swimming again at university, primarily as a means to keep fit as my main sport at the time was kayaking. I did my first triathlon in 1989. The swim was a disaster as I wore a kayaking long-john wetsuit that filled with water and slowed my swimming to a snail’s pace.
For a few years, I just did pool-based triathlons until I finally got a swimming wetsuit. This was revolutionary. My triathlon performance improved massively overnight and I avoided pool-based triathlons in favour of open water ones from then on. I had some success with triathlon, qualifying several times for GB age group teams and I was once national aquathon champion for my age group. However, my swimming was always much stronger than my cycling or running and it was getting frustrating exiting the water at the front of the pack and then spending the rest of the race being overtaken. Once mass participation open water swimming events started becoming popular, I pretty much dropped triathlon in favour of swim-only open water racing.
I saw the opportunity for creating a magazine about outdoor swimming in 2010. Open water swimming became an Olympic sport in 2008 and Britain had won three medals. Great Swim had popularised mass participation swimming events. The Outdoor Swimming Society was growing rapidly and social media was making it possible for outdoor swimmers to connect and swim together.
My dream with the magazine, which I launched in February 2011, is to share my passion for swimming and especially outdoor swimming, and provide the resources and inspiration for other people to experience it too. What I’ve come to realise is that my early swimming experiences were an enormous privilege that not everyone shares. For many people, swimming outside is incredibly daunting. It induces panic and fear rather than exhilaration and joy. Or people just don’t know where to start. And, once they’ve started, they don’t know where to go to find more information, places to swim or events to do.
Outdoor Swimmer is about connecting swimmers with each other and with the water. It’s about everything from celebrating the fun swimmers have when they gather for a chilly dip and a piece of cake to sharing inspiring stories of personal triumph. It’s about helping anyone who’s interested make the most of their outdoor swimming, whether they are a beginner or a life-long water baby.
Founder & publisher, Outdoor Swimmer
|AS YOU'RE HERE: The HOWSC website is maintained and run by HOWSC members and relies on voluntary contribtutions. Do you have something you'd like to share? Maybe reflections on a recent swim, tales of adventures in far flung places, an account of your watery accomplishments? Photographs, videos, poetry, prose, art and more will all be gratefully received and published on the website for all to admire. Contact Mark Reed to discuss or submit your contribution. We look forward to hearing from you.|