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Swimmers Trading Pools for Open Water


Swimmers enter the water for a mid-October chilly swim at Alki Beach in Seattle. (VOA / T. Banse)

Swimmers enter the water for a mid-October chilly swim at Alki Beach in Seattle. (VOA / T. Banse)

Increased numbers of swimmers are trading warm, calm pool water for exercise in open water. These people are known as “wild swimmers.”

“Wild” seems like a good description when you consider that they dive into lakes, rivers and oceans almost any time of the year.

The rising popularity of open water swimming has resulted in races and an unusual new business.

It is not unusual to see people swimming in the height of summer in Seattle, Washington. But this is autumn. The salt water of Puget Sound is 13 degrees Celsius. And, the air is not much warmer. That is why you can hear the involuntary sounds at the start of a group swim.

Forty-three-year-old Mike Tanner enters the water first. He works with technology and lives near Seattle. At a time when other people might go to Hawaii or Mexico, he chooses chilly Puget Sound.

“You know, I usually swim from about May until the end of November in open water. Then I go back to the pool and wait for May again.”

Mike Tanner jokes that he is not very intelligent. He says swimming in open water is a challenge for him. He also says he gets bored in a pool. He wants something a little more exciting.

On this day, Mr. Tanner has paid to join a guided group called a “swim excursion.” Most of the people wear wetsuits to cover more of their bodies than traditional swimsuits.

More than 10 swimmers are in the group. They follow an orange kayak for a one and a half kilometer salt-water swim. Guila Muir paddles the first of the support boats.

“A swim excursion is not a race. That’s the primary differentiation (first difference). It’s an expedition. It’s an adventure.”

Guila Muir has turned the idea into a business called “Say Yes! to Life Swims.” She began swimming a lot after her 40th birthday. The Seattle businesswoman soon recognized there were enough other enthusiastic swimmers around to support her company.

She questions why anyone would pay to swim in a community pool.

“Why pay to swim when you just can go down and jump in yourself? It’s for the camaraderie. As, you can see the incredible enthusiasm, the feeling of support…”

She spoke during a stop at a beach. There the group gathered around a small fire to warm up after their swim. They ate fish and chips and drank hot chocolate.

The establishment of Ms. Muir’s business three years ago shows the increased interest in open water swimming in the northwest United States.

Kelly Reynolds of Seattle is one of the newest converts to the sport. She says she swam in college two years ago. But she does not want to race in swimming pools anymore. She says she does not want to see how slow she is.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

*VOA reporter Tom Banse reported this story in Seattle. Jeri Watson write it for VOA Learning English. George Grow edited it.

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Words in this Story

chilly adj., noticeably cold

challenge - n., something that by its nature serves as a call to battle, to competition or special effort

paddles - v., moves through the water in a boat

enthusiastic - adj., feeling or showing strong excitement about something

convertsn., people who have changed from one belief, party or pastime (like a sport) to another.

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