Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Swim Social Blog: 'It is easier to win a Nobel prize than get into a wetsuit'

Blog by Chris Kane: With the sheer volume of water we have in Scotland, I’ve always been a little intrigued as to why we don’t have more of an outdoor swimming culture.  No, I haven’t lost my mind and yes, I do realise that our lochs and coasts are extremely cold.  But we’re Scots and we’re tough. We figure things out. Invent telephones. Clone sheep. Toss tree trunks for fun. The later stereotype aside, our relationship with our land has always been more about appreciating its beauty and utilising its productivity. However, head to Norway and 1 in 10 people have a “hyttar”, or “hut” by the side of a fjord or high in the mountains, with thousands of people flocking to the great outdoors at every opportunity. In Scotland, the ratio is 1 in 8000.    

But from mountain biking to allotments, I sense that we’re slowly starting to revaluate our relationship with the land and with our health. My Facebook feed is filled with friends training for triathlons or smiling families trekking up big hills on a Sunday afternoon with picnics packed with food grown at home. Something is beginning to click in our cultural psyche about just how much opportunity we have on our doorstep. 

There are 30,000 freshwater lochs in Scotland. If you drained all of the water from all of the lakes in England and Wales, you still wouldn’t have enough to fill up Loch Ness. As resources go, Scotland’s lochs are a pretty spectacular one. 

So why aren’t we all taking the plunge on a regular basis? It turns out more of us are than I first imagined – from the members of the forty-something Masters Clubs around Scotland to groups of friends simply taking to the water as others might take to the golf course.

Anne and I decided have decided to give outdoor swimming a try. Anne signed up for a Scottish Swimming event introducing some of the techniques of open water swimming, but in the more controlled environment of an indoor pool at Stirling University. I signed up for a “come and try” event at the new outdoor “Helix Lagoon” in Falkirk. We’ll write about both events shortly, but if you like the concept of outdoor swimming, you need three things: a wetsuit, common sense and some training.  Your local sports shop can help with the first and Scottish Swimming can help with the third. If you don’t have any of the second can I strongly urge you to avoid outdoor swimming.

Scotland’s lochs are cold. Really cold. Cold enough that they will suck the heat right out of your body leaving you exposed to hypothermia. A wetsuit is an essential piece of kit.  Wetsuits are both magical and evil. Magical in that they can make swimming in 14 degree water not only tolerable but enjoyable. I was genuinely surprised at how much a different a wetsuit can make. Where they are evil is that it is easier to win a Nobel prize than get into a wetsuit. But you can buy a suitable beginners wetsuit for less than £100.  “Come and Try” events organised by Scottish Swimming always have the option to hire wetsuits. 

Scotland’s lochs are also nothing like swimming pools. Swimmers who can happily swim in straight lines in swimming pools often swim in circles in lochs. Putting that and other common mistakes right is a reasonably straightforward job for a teacher. Hannah Miley and Ross Murdoch won gold medals in the pool at the Commonwealth Games last year – but they still get help from coaches. If our elite athletes benefit from having teachers, then you and I definitely will. 

As for common sense, don’t ever go swimming in a loch on your own, don’t ever go swimming in a loch without having done a thorough evaluation of the potential risks and always, always approach outdoor swimming with the care and attention you would if you were going skydiving. If you can do that, there is nothing to stop outdoor swimming become a fun, cheap and exhilarating hobby.

To find out more, contact your local Masters Club or sign up to find out more for a Scottish Swimming “come and try” event


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