Open Water Swimming: The Future for Learning to Swim?

  • Wellbeing

The rise in popularity of triathlon combined with the inclusive nature of open water swimming, providing an opportunity for all, irrespective of age, gender, or ability, has led to open water swimming becoming one of the UK’s fastest growing sports. It is not only for those that love to swim.

The growing body of evidence demonstrating the elevated positive impact of open water swimming for mental health linked to enhanced mood, reduced depression, and increased happiness, has led to a surge in popularity for the health conscious. Add to this the adventure of wild swimming and you have the perfect storm for a new generation of swimmers. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a disastrous impact on swimming which may put the future popularity of open water swimming in jeopardy.

The recent closure of 400 swimming pools in the UK due to the pandemic, which is predicted to rise to over 2,000 pools by 2030 (a number that is likely to increase dramatically linked to rising energy prices and a national shortage of chlorine) has had a disastrous impact on learning to swim. Over 1 million children missed swimming lessons during the pandemic and over 2 million children are predicted to leave primary school this year unable to swim (a requirement of the national curriculum).

When the lack of swimming and water safety is combined with the fact that 1 person drowns every 20 hours in the UK, we are facing a devastating impact for swimming and health. Could open water venues provide a solution to inexorable decline in swimming pools? High quality, consistent and safe open water could provide the ideal venue to teach swimming and water safety, as well as provide an enjoyable swimming experience for all.

Beyond Swim is central to the provision of high-quality open water swimming venues and could be the future of learning to swim for all and I am delighted to join the Beyond Swim team in their quest to create a national network of accredited facilities and promote safe open water swimming regardless of ability. In addition, I will be raising awareness of the project through my own challenge of swimming the 135 miles of The Upper Thames in July this year.

Article written by Professor Greg Whyte OBE