Embodied Experiences of Open Ocean Swimming

From the more extreme practice of marathon swimming to recreational and even therapeutic forms, open ocean swimming is a well-established activity. Enabling the participant to interact with the ocean in a way that most people will never choose to experience, it is a unique way of engaging with the ocean, often on a relatively personal and even intimate level. With links to cultural and health geographies, the experience of embodied open water swimming has become an emerging theme within academic research. Coinciding with the already well established concept of embodiment, with academics such as Longhurst suggesting that in order to understand people’s relationships with physical and social environments that it is vital to understand bodily experiences

Marathon Swimming

Ocean marathons and crossing the Channel are just two examples of how open water swimming is inherently athletic. This form of ocean interaction demonstrates how the sea is a platform through which complex and diverse experiences can be extracted. However, it would be wrong to assume that the practice is uncontested; drawing in wider themes of gender there are arguments surrounding who should participate in the sport. With academics arguing that its not enough just to campaign for equality within traditionally male-oriented sports but to reconceptualise what sport and physical activity are through a feminist lens. The complexities surrounding open ocean swimming, including the different interpretations and understandings of ocean interactions are arguably what makes it a continually evolving, relevant and highly political subject.

The concept of ocean swimming as a recreational and even therapeutic outlet within blue spaces has a long history, although little research has been done on the  immersive and therapeutic components.  It is increasingly moving from the subject contained within academic research to main stream media and ideology. Open ocean swimming is linked specifically to ideas around immersion, drawing on themes of person-place interactions and relationships between bodies, practices and multi-sensual environments.  Arguing that touch as a sense-experience facilitates a particular experience of space and mobilisation of emotion. Viewing the ocean as a therapeutic environment demonstrates its complexities; whilst for many people open ocean swimming is appears as a relatively unimportant practice for others it not only embodies their struggles with mental health but it’s vital to their recovery.

Recreational Ocean Swimming

The seemingly hidden impacts of the practice on how people perceive the ocean is an important branch of research. Increasingly the sea is becoming highly politicised, with issues including: borders, pollution and competing technological interests taking priority in decisions surrounding how the ocean is managed. However, when considering the preservation of the ocean and finding solutions to what appear to be ever increasing problems it is also vital to consider the way different communities engage with the sea, even if they seem unimportant to the wider political context. Opening wider debates about who and what should be considered when researching the ocean; engaging with these critical debates surrounding the ocean is an important step in ensuring that it remains an inclusive and open space.

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