Taking the plunge – how to love your first open water swim.

As an island, we’re surrounded by water and with our reservoirs, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, caves, beaches……..we’re blessed with a wealth of watery wonderlands to explore – and open water swimming offers just that.

The open water may seem daunting for a beginner – but follow our top tips to get you started and you’ll never look back.

1. Look for an organised swim session – as open water swimming grows in popularity, we are seeing more and more venues appearing across the country. We recommend going along to one of these sessions until you gain some experience, most have trained instructors on hand to offer safety information and advice and some offer wetsuit hire. Swimmingly runs introductory sessions at Elton reservoir on a Tuesday during Bolton Tri Club’s organised session, specifically for new or inexperienced open water swimmers – contact us for more information.

2. Stay warm – open water can be chilly so it’s a good idea to wear a wetsuit if you’re worried about the cold. It’s a completely different sensation to swimming without one – and can take a little getting used to. Your wetsuit may initially feel tight and restrictive, but remember it adds buoyancy which makes swimming easier, as well as keeping you warm. Make sure you choose a swimming wetsuit rather than one designed for surfing or diving, which will be too thick to swim freely in. You can also wear some more protective accessories such a neoprene caps, socks or gloves to help keep your extremities warm.

3. Stay safe and acclimatise  – never just jump straight in, there may be hidden hazards under the water and the cold can give you a shock which can be very dangerous. Obviously don’t swim if you’ve been drinking, wear a brightly coloured swim hat and never swim alone. Take time to get your body and brain used to the cold water – when you first get in, splash your face with water and put some down the back of your neck, this really helps avoid the nasty shock of cold water. You can also open the neck of your wetsuit to allow water in, it will soon start to warm up nicely.

4. Take your time – it’s not unusual to feel a little anxious about your first open water swim. The key is to stay as relaxed as possible by giving yourself time to get used to swimming in a different environment. Start off by feeling the sensation of how your wetsuit supports you by floating on your back and letting it hold you up – and remember, you can stop at any time and float like this if you need a breather.
Then have a look under the water (although you probably won’t see much!), make sure you keep exhaling as holding your breath can trigger a panic reaction. Practice a few times until your breathing calms and then float on your front, face in. If this feels difficult spend a bit of time just exhaling with your face in the water, ‘sit’ with any discomfort rather than pushing it away, it will soon pass. Once you feel comfortable take a few strokes – many people start with breaststroke then add front crawl strokes when they feel ready.

5. Learn how to sight – a crucial aspect to open-water swimming is learning how to “sight”. This is an important skill to help you navigate yourself around the swim course. In a pool, you have the luxury of lane ropes or tile markings to keep you on track, but in open water you need to be much more savvy about which direction you’re swimming in to avoid going off course and drifting further than you need to.
Choose a sighting point that’s high up – the top of a tree or building for example, as it’s much harder to see lower points from the water and you’ll need to lift your head higher which will disrupt your stroke.
As you swim, every 6 strokes or so, at the point where your leading hand is at full extension, lift your head a tiny amount – think crocodile eyes – to take a quick glimpse of your sighting point and get your head straight down. Your aim is to see where you’re going without disrupting your stroke technique or rhythm.

Open water swimming gives you an experience like nothing else; many beginners come along to our sessions thinking they will try it once – and are soon completely hooked!

Swimmingly is one!

It’s hard to believe that it’s just over 12 months since we opened our doors to our first clients, marking the start of a complete career change – and a personal dream come true.

Over the past year, we’ve taught over 140 people of different backgrounds and abilities, with aspirations that ranged from a 10km swim  – to simply putting their face in the water. We’ve had clients making a 100-mile journey for a class – as well as many people from the local area, including our next-door neighbours. We’ve taught old and young alike, from our youngest swimmer at just 4, to our oldest, learning to swim at 72.

Back to the start

I’d spent many years working in a high pressure corporate environment and my de-stresser was swimming. And not your common or garden swimming – ten years ago I learnt Total Immersion, a wonderful technique where you work with the water, rather than against it. It challenged everything I thought I knew.

The idea of opening my own swim school started as a seed that grew and grew – and before I knew it, we’d sacrificed a large chunk of our garden to build our own pool, housed inside a beautiful wooden cabin.

The build process itself was a challenge – from misunderstandings about measurements, dreadful weather, and problems with our boggy hillside garden which meant a constant battle to stop the flooding every time it rained. And in Ramsbottom, when it rains –  it really rains.

We were very lucky to find a true local hero who took on the challenge of finishing the build and saved the day –  along with my sanity!

A hundred happy swimmers

When I started building the pool it felt like a huge risk- I knew how amazing Total Immersion is – but were there enough people out there who would agree with me?

I needn’t have worried. From the off, our lessons have filled up as soon as we have released them, and we have a constant waiting list for children’s lessons.

We’ve shared countless memorable moments, including watching people sobbing on the deck because of their lifelong fear of swimming– and then seeing them shed tears of joy at their first glimpse under the water, free from discomfort or anxiety.

We’ve seen a beaming little boy’s first independent swim caught on video by his equally beaming mum, a disabled lady’s delight at her first experience of floating unaided and a seasoned triathlete’s thrill at taking seconds off his 100m time with no extra effort or breathlessness.

It’s these moments that make me pinch myself – is this really my pool and my job? Surely, it has to be the best job in the world. I’ve always enjoyed swimming but learning Total Immersion almost a decade ago taught me to love it and it’s been a privilege to be able to share it with so many people.

Looking forward

A year in, we’re looking to expand. We already have the wonderful Louise, who is teaching a new generation of swimmers using Total Immersion and this has led to a massive increase in demand for children’s lessons – so we are currently on the lookout for another pool and will soon need more teachers.

It’s been a fantastic first year and we’ve more than exceeded our expectations.

In fact, you could say it’s all gone rather swimmingly.

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