I’ve always enjoyed swimming in the ocean, but it was the early summer West Coast heat wave that brought me back to it. I live in Vancouver, BC and once mid-Spring arrives, many “open water swimmers” squeeze into their wetsuits and head to Kitsilano or Jericho Beach for regular swims. Some are serious athletes and others, like myself, are amateurs who do not track our pace but nonetheless love to be in the water.
As the days get warmer, wetsuits aren’t always necessary but, in this climate, open water distance swimming is still mostly a chilly experience. It requires a certain level of determination to “just wade in.” So why is it that I love this form of movement and find it so restorative?
Being in the ocean gives me the chance to unplug from the world. Since the pandemic started, I’ve become even more glued to my phone. Recognizing that this isn’t healthy, I purposefully seek out activities that counter my tendency to habitually look at a screen. Swimming puts breath at the front of your mind. The frenetic pace of the work day and worries about the future both seem to fade away when you put a focus on your breathing. You are in your own marine bubble every time you wade into the ocean, flowing along with just the rhythm of your movements and your breathing. It’s the ultimate unplugged movement activity.
When swimming, small nuances of technique make a huge difference. I’m not nearly as efficient as some of my swimmer friends, but I still appreciate the beauty of moving through the water with as little effort as possible. While in the ocean, I’m always thinking about the positioning of my fingers, hands, elbows, and so on. Technique occupies most of my thoughts, which is part of the beauty of the activity.
Swimming allows me to focus on only what is in front of me. Looking down into the Pacific Ocean as I swim, I don’t see the bottom, I only see a green sparkling pattern that shifts with the light. I find this restful, especially when I stop trying to see anything specific and just take in the dancing colours and patterns.
Another perk of ocean swimming compared to some other fitness activities is that there are no line-ups and no reservations required. Most public pools and exercise facilities are busy and bustling throughout the day. But once you leave the beach as an open water swimmer, you’re on your own almost all of the time. This solitude is a welcome antidote to back-to-back Zoom calls.
For most of us in Vancouver, open water swimming is not an all-year activity. But for the several warm months of the year, there is nothing quite like the feeling of being free and swimming through the waves. I encourage you to find an activity, fitness or otherwise, that allows you to unplug from the world and connect with yourself like swimming does for me. There is a special satisfaction that comes from moving in a way that demands you be completely present in the moment.
Brian Hamilton is a television producer and co-owner of Omnifilm Entertainment, one of Canada’s most successful independent producers of premium content. He is actively involved as a board member of several film/TV industry organizations and is a co-founder of the Pacific Screenwriting Program. In his off hours he runs, swims, bikes, and plays keyboard in a neighbourhood band that covers pop tunes from the 70’s and 80’s.