Perhaps we do not talk about enjoyment in open water swimming because it is a given.
We do it because we love it. We do it because going out to oceans, seas, lakes,
rivers, bays, reservoirs, lagoons, fjords, lidos and canals is fun. We do it
because it is a blast to get into the water with like-minded individuals and we love
sharing stories about the open water after we get out.
I equate the camaraderie and collegiality of the open water to that of the surfing
community. Only a handful of athletes can win pro surfing contests and only a small
number of athletes win marathon swimming races, but millions of surfers and millions
of swimmers enjoy the open water, each sharing in the challenges and their common
experiences in the water. Surfers can talk and describe for hours the waves they
caught and the waves they didn’t. They colorfully describe wipeouts and usually
exaggerate of the size of the waves. Similarly, open water swimmers can colorfully
describe how cold, how clear, how rough or how smooth the open water is and their
sentiments will be easily understood by other swimmers.
I do not often hear swimmers regularly talk for hours about their experiences in a
500-yard free or a 400 IM or colorfully describe their turns or breathing patterns.
A swimmer can minutely, passionately and comprehensively remember and describe an
open water swim 1 year, 3 years, 10 years, 30 years after the fact. How many of us
choose to remember so vividly a specific 200 butterfly race 1, 3, 10 or 30 years
after the fact? Open water swimming allows us to delve to the depths of our emotion
in rather unique ways that stay with us, often for a lifetime.
I hear of pool swimmers who quit the sport; I hear of burnout; I hear of a lack of
passion, but I rarely hear of the same thing in the open water world. Open water
swimmers may retire from the sport; they may take a break; they may get injured or
they may have to focus on family or their profession, but I think most open water
swimmers assume they are in the sport for life.
This speaks volumes. This fact implies enjoyment is a given.
Here are another few observations:
1. Pool swimming is coach-centric in that coaches rule the pool deck and dominate
decision-making. In conferences, books and magazines, coaches are front and center
in the pool swimming world. Coaches talk, swimmers do. Coaches give instructions,
swimmers follow. This happens in learn-to-swim programs, at YMCA’s, during high
school, at colleges, masters swimming teams and, certainly, in age-group programs
from coast to coast. But, athletes decide what swims to do, how to train (with some
exceptions) and what to do out in the open water. Open water swimming is
athlete-centric in a profoundly different way.
2. The clock is certainly an empirical means to measure performance in the pool, but
in open water races, time has less meaning. Thomas Lurz, who won 2 gold medals in
the 5K and 10K races at the 2009 World Championships, was asked why he started to
swim crookedly during the last loop of his races. He said that he knew the athletes
behind him would follow him (as open water swimmers tend to do) and that time did
not matter. He only had to reach the finish before others and, if others were going
to follow him, then that put him in the driver’s seat. In marathon swimming, with
few exceptions, the goal is to finish. Time is secondary. Therefore, satisfaction
is, from this perspective, easier to achieve in the open water than the pool.
So while we do not specifically address enjoyment, fun and good memories in this
email thread, it is only because it is all around us in the open water.
Note: please understand that I do not mean to disparage pool swimming,
which I do myself up to 5 times per week. It is simply different.