I bet the title on this essay is going to get me in trouble on some search engines, but there is nothing inappropriate in the content, I assure you. The title just fits…
I was swimming in the Mediterranean Sea in Antalya yesterday. April 8! The water was 18 C. I got fed up of the cloudy and hot (30 C) water at the university pool and headed back to the open-water. The last 2 weeks I have swam with my quickjohn (sleeveless, short leg) wetsuit and neoprene cap so I could stay in the sea as long as I could, since I am not acclimated to cooler water (yet). I just wanted to stretch out and swim long, with un-interrupted strokes again. Each day that I have jumped in I have notice the temperature to feel less biting in the beginning, less numbing on the fingers and toes toward the end of my hour.
I have no complaints because I am back in the sea. By far, most of my swimmer friends around the world are constrained to indoor pools. Of course, to my northern European friends, 18 C is the hottest your sea will ever get on a lucky day. (I was told one of my Swedish friends plunged into his 3 C lake just this last week- and made it just a minute!) The coldest the sea will get here in Antalya is 16 C in February. My goal this coming year is to become a year round sea swimmer- without a wetsuit.
The wetsuit lifts my body up much higher in this already extraordinarily salty part of the Mediterranean Sea. In that higher position the waves slap me around like a cork bobber and I have to use even greater concentration to hold balance and steady catch. I may slip through the water slightly faster due to the reduced surface friction of the water flowing over the slick neoprene shell. But the bouyancy and exposure to surface waves and drag change the way I must use musculature and leverage to keep a steady catch. This gets exhausting. The tightness of the suit resists full body extension and the transfer of forces through my rotation. The neoprene shell deprives me of vital skin sensory information that would normally help me hold better balance and steamline in turbulent water conditions.
At the end of yesterday’s swim- 45 minutes of steady waves from the side and a decent wind-driven current at my head- I slipped off the suit in the shallow water, tossed it on shore, then slipped back into the water to feel the difference. I felt amazingly more smooth and powerful, with less effort. It did not feel threateningly cold on my core either. Without the restriction of the tight neoprene I could now transfer forces from toe to finger tips through my body rotation much easier. My body lay deeper in the water and was therefore less exposed to the surface waves and wind. I was not tossed around, my balance was untouched. I could extend fully without resistance. My body was ever so slightly longer and leaner, even if by less than a couple centimeters, and that little improvement in length/width ratio improved my acceleration on each stroke. Thus liberated I could finally feel water pressure and flow over the entire surface of my skin, assuring me I was sliding through the water with best position.
“Ahhh!” I savored each naked stroke like I was slowly melting a chunk of dark chocolate (with sea salt, of course) on my tongue.
Side note: I should mention the after-effects of swimming in cool water! It made me feel fresh, toasty and alert all day.
This superior sensation, the enhanced quality in the experience, the liberation- these are huge motivations for me to be free of the wetsuit and to adapt to my local sea conditions year-round.
By all means, for the love of swimming open-water, let’s use a wetsuit if needed to handle the cold, and have fun. Being able to access open-water (enjoyably) is more important than worrying about being a ‘purist’ or not. And, to me, quality is even more important than that. I don’t need to simply get in the distance or get my workouts done. I am not looking for an achievement, or something to brag about. I want liberation to swim when and where I am drawn to, even if it means shorter swims when it gets colder. Year-round ‘naked’ swimming is totally within reach and it would allow me to swim with much more ease, enjoyment and freedom. So it is worth the pursuit to me. For you too, perhaps?
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