‘My friend does that’, shouted down the lady from the side of her boat as my now wife and I swam past in the river below. ‘It’s that “Wild Swimming” thing, isn’t it?’.
I smiled and said Yes but something about what she said irked me.
She was friendly enough and she was right about the name – “wild swimming” is indeed the most common term for it – but there was something in the way she said it and what was implied. It made wild swimming sound like something special when it’s really not.
Wild swimming is not a sport. It is not something for which you need to train or buy specific equipment. You do not need to have any expertise nor do any research before you start. It’s not “Wild Swimming” – with capital letters and quote marks – it’s just swimming that happens to be outdoors.
Branding the act of being in a natural body of water for pleasure is useful in that it gives a focus to all those who love it – and there are many – and acts as a beacon to which others can flock. Websites, societies, guide books, forums. These are all great tools for sharing the cold water tonic and the more people that drink it, the better.
But it’s important to remember that for all the hype and discussion, wild swimming is no more sophisticated than what kids do at the beach and no more complicated than jumping off a jetty fully clothed.
Surely the single greatest task for advocates of outdoor swimming is converting the unconverted? In elevating its status, however, there lies a risk of alienating potential enthusiasts . “Wild Swimming: The Sport” has a tinge of exclusivity attached when swimming outdoors is anything but.
So, outdoor swimming fans, please keep making a splash about the joys of open water but don’t build it up too much or you might undermine your own cause.