Alpkiteer Kate Rew is the Founder of The Outdoor Swimming Society and author of a new handbook that will help you swim anywhere. Here's a taste of what you'll find in The Outdoor Swimmers' Handbook. Kate shares her starter tips on exploring new swims.
No-one has done more to introduce people to the joys of fully immersing themselves in nature.
Knowing someone else has swum in a place gives us a feeling of permission. For me, finding a swim – seeing a place, or a picture of a place and working out how to swim there – is where the fun starts. I once took my whole family to the Eastern Sierra in California to swim in its meandering hot river and dip in its hot pots, based on images that popped up on Instagram. It was more dipping than swimming and perfect for our sons at the time: a Sunday afternoon we spent chatting to locals in pools on a ridge I will never forget, a shared experience found via a mutual love of water.
We always peer out over bridges as we drive about, and look out of train windows, studying and naming the rivers below. Swimming and descriptions of water pop up everywhere – fiction, non-fiction, newspaper articles – to get the dreaming started.
Necessity is often the mother of the best finds: the need to find a body of water to train in (but when I wake up, not when a pay gate opens) or to locate a place where a group of disparate friends can meet under a full moon. Maps are useful – OS maps for blue space, satellite maps for a virtual reconnaissance – followed by a willingness to get into conversations. You will likely develop a sixth sense for people who share your love of water, and from whom information can be gleaned.
A dream becomes a plan when you step back and look at the swim itself as a journey. Where is the best swim experience to be had, with whom and with what extras? But a good deal of planning is casting your mind over what might go wrong and putting ‘control measures’ in place. Swimmers call this ‘doing a DIY risk assessment’. On a simple plunge risks may be far and few between. On an epic adventure the risk factors (cold incapacitation, boat traffic, weather) could run to pages. You are not looking to remove risk – there is no such thing as a safe swim, only safe swimmers – but you are seeking to name the risks and manage them.