Experiential And Episodic Open Water Swimming

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Shane Gould and her husband Milt Nelms speak eloquently about swimming, whether it is in the pool or open water, whether it is for Olympic champions or newcomers who are dipping their toes in the ocean for the first time.

The power couple of aquatics talk passionately about swimming through the decades and how open water swimming is playing into their greater plan to help many learn how to swim.

Milt, one of the world’s leading experts and innovators in swimming technique, has worked with many of the world’s best swimmers and served as a consultant to organizations and governments around the world on teaching swimming to people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds. For someone who has been around pool decks his adult life, Milt writes poetically about open water swimming.

The concept of ocean swimming is very appealing to me. We spend all day in some sort of a figurative (or real) box moving back and forth according to someone else’s rules or instructions. Not so in the ocean. You go out, you come back. That is enough, and to me, it is a lot.”

Milt is colorful when describing the differences between open water and pool swimming: “Pool swimming is very quantitatively driven. If you go to a meet, such as sectionals or any large age group meet, they are really not about racing as much as they are about times. At sectionals where there are 180 girls entered in the 100 free, how many are racing mana-a-mano? Not more than a handful. There are many entire heats of 8 virtually identical times.”

In pool competitions, a non-gratifying physical experience with a fast time is seen as a success, or a pleasurable physical experience can be deflated by a bad time. In a pool competition, a close race that is won and yields a slow time often is a disappointment. Similarly, a race that is lost but yields a fast time is celebrated. Take the seconds and the centimeters out of either of those situations and you would have a different reality.”

Oceans swims are experiential and episodic. There is no distraction of miniscule measurement, only generalities of thirds or halves that are inexact because of other variables such as wind, tides, or currents. It is the quality of the experience at different levels, or pure strategic racing that defines the event.”

Milt’s description of open water swimming is right to the point – experiential and episodic. Those words – whether one is swimming in a 1 km race or doing a marathon solo swim – certainly ring true no matter what ocean, lake, river or bay you find yourself swimming in.

Photo of the Nike Swim Miami by George Kamper.

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