While only a tiny minority of canoeists and kayakers regularly combine cycling and paddling, thereby earning the right to wear the coveted “amphibious paddler” badge, all paddlers are amphibians. We divide our waking hours in the backcountry more or less equally between water and land, and even when we’re under way, we’re not truly aquatic. We keep the wet stuff at arm’s length. Canoeists do this of necessity. Their boats leak at the top, a shortcoming that doesn’t trouble kayakers. But even hair‑shirt creek boaters in buttoned‑up boats prefer to keep their craft right‑side up most of the time.
And yet, few of us can resist the temptation to take a dip during lunch stops — or failing that, at the end of long, hot days — provided, of course, that the water is warm and welcoming. Not only is it delightful to wash the salt crust from our sweaty bodies, but swimming is a pleasure in its own right. So much so, in fact, that some paddlers occasionally leave their boats behind when they go exploring, becoming what the Brits call “wild swimmers.” I must confess that this tag puzzled me when I first encountered it. As a girl, I seldom swam anywhere that had lifeguards, floats, or ropes, let alone the dubious amenities of chlorine and concrete. And as an adult, I never do. But it had never occurred to me to add a prefatory “wild” to my kind of swimming. Surely, I thought, swimming is swimming, whether you’re paddling in a pool in your backyard or emulating Colin Fletcher’s aquatic “portages” in the Grand Canyon.
Subsequent reflection brought me round, however. Wild swimming is indeed a thing apart. There is a real difference in the distinction. Not that I’m suggesting wild swimming is in any way superior to its “domestic” counterpart. Far from it. Nor do I think that lifeguards serve no purpose. They do. Timid swimmers, or parents with small children, will find a lifeguard’s presence reassuring. But for those of us prepared to take responsibility for our own fate, lifeguards are neither necessary nor desirable, and the attractions of wild swimming may indeed prove irresistible. (WARNING: On some bodies of water, even some that might well appear “wild” to the unprejudiced eye, it is now a ticketable offense to swim anywhere other than a supervised swimming area. Caveat natator.)
Anyway, wild swimming is a natural complement to paddling. But as the “wild” in the name suggests, there are dangers in the vast, watery world that stretches out beyond the designated beaches and their roped‑off swimming areas. We are naked apes. The water is not our home. So the first question to ask yourself before taking the plunge is always, “Is it safe?”… Read more…
Questions? Comments? Just click here!