In 1999 nature writer and documentary maker Roger Deakin made history. Although the quintessentially eccentric English gent with his rambling Suffolk home – complete with its own moat no less – didn’t know so at the time, his epic book Waterlog set about a chain of events that would go on to revolutionise open water swimming.
For a generation stuck behind a desk whose only experience of swimming was in the dark, smelly, overly chlorinated pools of the 1970s his message was simple. Swimming is an immersive experience to be enjoyed and savoured, much like it was back in the days before indoor pools were around!
By the time of his book launch he had gathered a small band of followers, including myself. I vividly remember the launch on a windy day at the Oasis outdoor pool in Central London’s Covent Garden. For someone who only swam indoors at the time, and hated the smell of chlorine, swimming outdoors pretty much for the first time felt like a real liberation – from work, from troubles and from technology.
These days it is one of the few times I’m without my mobile phone (although I do confess to wearing an underwater MP3 player when swimming in a pool, but never, ever open water).
Clearly I am not the only one to have been inspired by Roger’s beautifully evocative book. He has inspired a whole outdoor swimming industry – from Kate Rew’s Outdoor Swimming Society through to the British Gas Great Swim series of events and the Marathon Swimming of the London Olympics.
There are people who are now making really good livings out of teaching people how to swim properly in open water (wild swimming as it sometimes called, a phrase he would have hated) and taking them on organised holidays to swim all over the world. Good on them, I say, especially if they are making people happy and fit at the same time.
Sadly, Roger couldn’t be around to witness these changes. He died in 2006, only four months after being diagnosed with a brain tumour. Nor would he have welcomed all of the developments. A head up breaststroker, he preferred to take life at his own pace and find his own swims, sneaking into the water whenever possible rather than ploughing up and down with specially designed open water goggles and wetsuits. But the great thing about open water swimming is that – unlike in a pool – there’s the space for every kind of swimmer!
In his excellent blog, Waterlog Reswum, journalist Joe Minihane swims the rivers, bays, streams and lidos Deakin visited in Waterlog. “My mission is to experience the waters as Roger did, writing about and photographing them,” explains Minihane, “exploring how they have changed and how attitudes to outdoor swimming have shifted since Waterlog’s publication”.
You can read my interview with Joe Minihane in tomorrow’s Goggleblog. And if you want to read the buy the original Waterlog there’s a link for it below.