Mike Porteous is a Swim Coach in Residence for the Outdoor Swimming Society (OSS) – which pioneers outdoor swimming in rivers, lakes, lido and seas – and a host for Mental Health Swims, whilst also running an endurance sports coaching business, ZigZag Alive. In this blog, he explains how he was first introduced to outdoor swimming and discusses the positive impact it can have on your health; physically and mentally.
The Joy Club: For our members who are looking to give outdoor swimming a go for the first time, please explain more about outdoor swimming and how you were introduced to it…
Mike Porteous: What a great question to start with! Outdoor swimming covers a very wide range of super exciting varieties of swimming: some daunting, some leisurely, pretty much all life enhancing. From dipping in the sea, rivers or lakes and lochs, to tackling challenging distances like the OSS’s Dart 10k (the swimming equivalent of a marathon) and beyond, to the frozen extremes of ice miles.
I had quite a zigzag route into outdoor swimming – both as a swimmer and as a coach. I used to be a skinny, zippy runner who then got into triathlons. From there, with the passing of years and possibly too much cake, I’ve found I can keep reaching for fun challenges and adventures in swimming, while the running and cycling got slower and harder to maintain. I’m also lucky to live three minutes by flip-flop from a nice quiet beach so I can dip in the sea through the year.
And I’m lucky enough to coach swimmers of all abilities and ambitions; from nervous novices to Channel swimmers. I also teach children with disabilities to swim. There is such a richness in the stories, experiences and connections to water each and everyone brings.
TJC: Do you need any equipment?
MP: Just a swimsuit – the snazzier the better – and goggles. If you get into cold water dipping, then warm layers to wear before and after, plus a big bold bobble hat are absolutely essential. And for those who get into the longer distance swimming, a wetsuit is worth splashing out on (one for swimming in, not for other water sports).
TJC: In what types of open water can you outdoor swim in, in the UK?
MP: A bit difficult to answer in just a few words – and there’s a different answer for Scotland, which has an open access policy. In the rest of the UK it is less clear what is legally allowed or likely to be tolerated. More information on this complex picture. That aside, I would say first and foremost, swim where you feel safest. And one of the best ways to find out where to swim in your area is to join a local swimming group – the OSS has a really useful list.
TJC: Tell us more about responsible swimming…
MP: This is so important. I’d strongly encourage anyone to approach outdoor swimming with a clear, front-of-mind sense of looking after yourself, those around you and the natural environment you’re lucky to enjoy. At the OSS we have an Outdoor Swimmers’ Code that is all about taking personal responsibility for our safety, being considerate of other users and communities near where we swim and respecting the environment.
TJC: What impact does outdoor swimming have on your mental and physical wellbeing?
MP: Where to begin? I feel that swimming, whether dipping in the sea through the year or training for a big distance, helps to ground me, and gives me a stillness and a sense of being alive and well. There’s obviously the physical benefits of staying healthy and fit too. I also draw energy from being in nature, losing and finding myself in and amongst the waves and ever-changing surroundings.
TJC: What is it about outdoor swimming that brings you joy?
MP: For me it’s about seeking out and nurturing a sense of stilling connectedness to myself, to those around me who share the same passion and pleasure, and to the constantly changing, ebbing and flowing environment.
Find out more about the Outdoor Swimming Society, and Mike’s additional work in setting up a resource for sports coaches interested in confidence in great coaching practice: Confidence Centred Coaching.