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Open water by Darrin Roles

Updated: Apr 10

Looking at this stretch of river I am always amazed how each time I look there is something different to see. I have been gazing into this flowing, meandering mystery of ever changing waters for years. Not just as an open water swimmer. Sometimes I gazed as a passer-by, or a boating enthusiast, Kayaker and power boats. Even as an angler, or whilst running. From the banks, my eyes would naturally follow the curves of the river, disappearing off into the distance. Calling me on, following the flow.


There is something about the water that will captivate you on many levels, but for this brief moment, the water’s surface is my starting point.

“There are no beautiful surfaces without a terrible depth” F. Nietzsche.


This is a good point and a worthwhile opportunity to look a little closer at the water from a safe place. Try to understand what’s going on in the water and under the water’s surface. Water attracts water, by its natural properties. Water attracts all kinds of life and pursuits, but in this case, water attracts swimmers.

Big whirls have little whirls that feed on their velocity,

And little whirls have lesser whirls

And so, on too viscosity.

Lewis Fry Richardson.

Open water swimming is about the incredible freedom felt in nature and being part of the untamed rawness and utter beauty. Not the polished beauty found in white fluffy towelled spa’s where nothing other than your wants and needs are met. Not knocking spas, not at all! But open water swimming is not all graceful. That’s the point! The same open water swimming spot will always be different in many ways.


The temperature, if you’re an all year-round skins swimmer this is vital information needed. If in a wetsuit, not so much but still information worthwhile knowing. Water quality is always a hot topic and this can go way beyond this post. But do check on quality!!

The flow of the river, the direction, which way is it going? Sounds silly, but look and see. Water can flow in many directions depending on different factors. My first experience of swimming in deep water felt so different to swimming in shallow water. Whilst swimming in deep water section of flowing water, where the river moves at its fastest feels very different to the water when it becomes shallow. Or when you swim near fast flowing water and the effects created by eddies and swirls circling around in the opposite direction to the flow. Whirlpool effects. Water hitting the banks will drag and slow, whilst the water moving towards the midline will not slow, causing a whirl pool effect. Like water flowing over a boulder, you might see the water bulge, being pushed back by the obstacle, then on the other side of the obstacle the water is dipping down and flowing backwards against the flow. Kayakers know this all too well. Stoppers! In front of weirs and in rapids.


Looking on the waters surface will indicate what’s going on. Patterns on the surface will tell you so much more about underwater details. Rocks, shallows, deep sections, colour changes, shallow areas are lighter, even clear, you can see the bottom. In moving water. Not always in weedy lakes.


If there are patterns on the surface you know the water is behaving differently to its surrounding water surface, then ask why? Time to investigate.

The wonder of open water swimming, just gets better and better when you know how to enjoy all aspects of the journey. From water’s edge to thalwag speed racing, navigating the flow up and downstream, this is why wild swimming is so awesome.



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