The Art of Open Water Swimming

“live each season as it passes” H.D. Thoreau

As I passed the green canvas hastily strung over the cyclone fence my eyes fell upon the italicized quote from Thoreau’s Walden… “Live each season as it passes…” It was printed beneath a picture of Walden Pond on one of the banners disguising the beginnings of the construction of Walden’s new Visitors Center. I was still thinking about the quote, wondering when I would let go of my need to swim, as if summer had not ended months ago, and accept the fact we are well into Fall, when I stepped off the stone stairs onto the sand. I knew had become fanatical, obsessed by the need to swim almost every day, so that my body acclimatized to the constant temperature decrease, when I saw Cathy. She was standing at “the wall.” Before I could say a word she looked up and smiled, “We’re going to have to let go of this soon you know.”
“Yeah, I was just thinking the same thing,” I replied.

The air temperature must have been in the mid fifties. The sun was shining though it seemed pale and the blue sky had a washed out feeling to it. It seemed as though fine strands of cotton wool had been stretched across it until they were almost thread bare. “I don’t know about the ‘almost 60 degrees’ ” I continued, remembering I had heard the water temperature had been gauged as such a few days earlier. “It seems more like 58 to me, and falling daily.”

Cathy pulled a jar of Aquafor out of her bag. Her neoprene cap lay next to it on the wall.
“You should start whenever you’re ready. It’ll take me forever,” I told her. There were silk socks, two pairs, ear plugs and nose clips to keep out the cold, a bathing cap and over it a neoprene cap, Aquafor for my lips and hands, silk gloves on top….the list of items to keep warm seemed to grow every day. It took longer to get ready and change after swimming than to swim itself. If it hadn’t been that the rhythm of the right, left and the rolling of the hips along the axis of the spine felt so soothing, I might give it up. I thought about all this as I walked down to the water’s edge wondering if it would be today that I would stop enjoying it.

But it wasn’t. And in any case, I told myself, I would quit after three swims which just weren’t fun anymore.

I meandered back up the beach, feeling a sense of calm and accomplishment while assessing how cold my hands were. It was the major problem I and many other swimmers faced, and for me, cold hands were accompanied by weakness to the extent that I struggled to hook my index finger under my wetsuit cuff and find an angle which gave me enough power to pull at my silk glove. I grabbed at it futilely, two perhaps three times cursing under my breath at how ridiculous it was, while simultaneously worrying I would not be able to press down the electronic key to unlock my car. Getting out of my wet gear and into warm dry clothes was so important.

Cathy was already on the beach and eager to get up to the car park to change. We had a ritual on sunny days like this. Park in the most secluded but sunny area of the car park and change, our gear organized out of the trunk of the car. It was warmer than the dingy cement bathroom block at the far end of the car park.

While Fall swimming is by far my favorite for many reasons, as Fall edges in on winter, the art of open water swimming becomes something which starts before you even get into the water and ends with a thermos of hot tea afterwards. But for the 30 minutes of tranquility, rolling from left to right and listening to the rhythm of my breath, when the water is a deeper reflection of the sky and the trees a mirage of color every time I turn my head, it’s worth it.

Fall swimming is my favorite for a number of reasons

Fall swimming is my favorite for a number of reasons

And it’s not over for the year just yet.


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