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Cork Open Water Swimming Group

Monday, 17 May 2010

For the past few weeks, we've been encouraging everyone to get involved safely in swimming this summer. If you do, you could end up having as much fun as the Cork Open Water Swimming Group! We went out and had an evening with their members to get a feel for the Groups typical outing, plus we're joined in studio by Ned Denison, chairperson for the National Open Water Committee.

Ned Denison, Chairperson, National Open Water Committee

Can you tell us about the Cork Open Water Swimming Group?

My local open water swimming group meets to swim at the slipway in front of Sandycove Island, Kinsale, Co. Cork. We keep in touch through a Google group with 315 members. This contains a wealth of material about local swims, techniques, records. Most members, however, simply get emails about upcoming news/events and then every now and then the email activity goes crazy following a marathon swimmer. I think there may have been 50 emails while our three local swimmers conquered the English channel last September over a 52 hour period!
The members cover all ages and competencies from marathoners to social dippers.

How did you get involved?

I was coming to Cork on business in 2000 and was connected to the group for occasional swims. When I moved to Cork in 2001, I became a regular and started to help on the organisation and communication side.

Tell us about the group's trip to Alcatraz.

In 2005, after the group logged over 2,000 laps around Sandycove Island throughout the year, I asked the group if they wanted to set another target and gave a range of choices: relay team swim around Manhattan, Alcatraz or Hellespont. Alcatraz was the choice.
I had done the swim twice before so I organised a seminar, 12 locals showed up and within a week all 12 had booked it for late summer 2006. I had no driving interest in going again but I told my wife Anne that I thought I might be missing a great trip, so she set a goal to learn how to swim and we booked. Then the calls started: "I hear ye are going to Alcatraz, can I tag along?". We ended up with 115 swimmers booked from all provinces and a few from the wider Irish family.
There were amazing stories: the guy from Dublin who flew to NY and collected 2 cousins and they swam, the woman from Cork signed up her cousin living in San Francisco to swim and she came for the party, the father and his retired father from Tralee
In the end, 93 from our group got on the ferry holding 700 swimmers, belting out the Fields of Athenry. When the last few Irish came in from our 90+ swimmers and families had the other 3,000 spectators screaming along with us.
It was the largest group of Irish swimmers ever at a foreign event, the largest single group ever swimming Alcatraz, PLUS the club hosting the swim has Irish roots and were delighted. Cork and San Francisco are twinned and the mayor of SF declared it Cork Masters Swim Club Day!

Are there many similar groups around the country?
There are at least 50 open water groups swimming regularly in Ireland. A partial list can be found on the Swim Ireland website:
For other local groups contact your local triathlon club, ask your nearby beach or pool lifeguard.

Is there a big social element to the group?

The Sandycove Island group is quite close. The folks have a chat before the swim and inevitably stand around in the blazing sunlight having tea and biscuits after the swims. OK - they also stand around in the cold January rain talking after swims! We are fortunate in Cork, that sea temperatures allow swimming all year round - even just in togs. The group in Partmarnock, Co. Dublin, also swim every Sunday all year - but the sea temperature often dictates a very short winter swim for them.
The Sandycove group also travels to swims all over Munster and beyond. I think our biggest foreign trips were to Alcatraz in 2006 and the English channel in 2005.

Do you prefer swimming in the sea or a pool?

Give me the open water any day (sea, lake, river, reservoir) over the pool. You have a sense of freedom, at-one with nature and every swim is different.

If someone wanted to join an open water swimming group what would your advice be? Are there certain things that they should be aware of?
First, learn how to swim - which is generally done in a pool with a certified coach.
Second, be capable of at least 20 lengths of your local pool, comfortably, before you start in the open water. This will also mean that you now have goggles that fit!
Third, consider joining a Swim Ireland Masters Club or Triathlon Club to get a structured program.
When it comes time to start in the open water - be safe. Either do your first swims in front of a certified beach lifeguard or with an experienced group of swimmers. Starting in late June (in just togs) will give you reasonably warm water - but beware that your first two swims will feel uncomfortable. The third swim of the year is when you actually feel good. If you want to start earlier or you don't find the open water temperature to your liking - get a wetsuit (for swimming - not windsurfing or diving).
Then, finally - pick a short "fun swim" of say 500m or 1,000m and sign up!
From there you can do anything you want in the sport!

See below for a partial list of the 2010 swims!