Brunt on the gentrification of swimming
Our weekend warrior Martyn Brunt’s got it in for wild swimmers, who he believes have diminished his chances to brag about his open-water exploits…
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By Martyn Brunt
Published: August 31, 2023 at 1:01 pm
There’s no doubt that if there’s one pastime that has boomed over the past couple of years, it’s wild swimming. Or, as it used to be known, ‘swimming’.
It’s a sure sign that something has caught on when it starts being written about in newspaper lifestyle supplements. And it seems that I can’t glance at social media these days without being bombarded with adverts for tow floats, organic towels, flasks to keep your post-swim latte warm, and camouflage changing robes.
Naturally my reaction to this is delight at seeing so many people enjoying outdoor healthy pursuits and discovering the joy of swimming. That’s my public reaction anyway.
Behind the insincere smile I’m quietly seething that the thing I do, which was previously considered the exclusive preserve of super-fit nutters, has been gentrified, and my opportunities to brag about my death-defying open-water exploits have been diminished.
For nothing takes the edge off the element of danger you’ve cultivated like seeing your sport appear in a free magazine from a supermarket.
Of course, there are some major differences between the kind of open-water swimming we all do and the average wild swim. For the most part the new breed of wild swimmers don’t:
Try telling that to the public, though. As far as they’re concerned swimming is swimming and that thing we used to do which suggested we spent our time striking bravely forth through stormy, shark-infested waters is now in the same category as tai-chi and hot yoga.
These are particularly tough times for me because as well as being a triathlete of note (the ‘note’ being that I’m crap), I’m also a Masters and open-water swimmer, and if there’s one place this tow-float appropriation of swimming is felt more keenly than in tri, it’s among the cold-water mob who eschew drybags for Tesco carriers, changing robes for rough towels and wetsuits for pink skin.
It may feel like Masters’ swimmers are just triathletes who don’t bike and run, but there are some key differences:
But whether it’s tri or Masters, it looks like we all have to face the fact that open-water swimming is no longer seen as the hazardous and sexy pastime it once was.
However, I am happy to put aside my petty prejudices and grumbles that I am no longer seen as some sort of bristly superhero made of flint and scar-tissue, because there are two distinct advantages to having lakes and beaches full of new swimmers:
Top image credit: Daniel Seex
220's back-page columnist
Martyn has been our resident 'Weekend Warrior' since 2009, providing a self-deprecating monthly insight into the trials and tribulations of your average age-group triathlete.
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