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Open Water

Kathleen Wilson swims around Charleston, S.C. Photo: Gary McElveen

As with all adventure sports, risk is inherent in open water swimming. Once you’ve made the preparations, you simply have to weigh the risk against the reward and decide if swimming across an expansive body of water is worth it. For Friberg, it’s more than the challenge of swimming from point A to point B. Swimming open water is very much a Zen-like practice for her.

“Swimming is about repetition and rhythm. You breathe every three strokes. Having a breathing pattern automatically gets you into a rhythm. Some people play mind games to deal with that repetition, but I embrace it. I try not to think of anything. My mind becomes completely blank,” Friberg says. “When I was swimming the English Channel, I counted to three over and over for 12.5 hours. After six hours, I was in a completely meditative state. I wasn’t even on this planet. I don’t remember much from hour six to the finish. I just have little visions. That’s never happened to me before or since. But even swimming for just an hour can be relaxing and meditative.”

Tips for handling open water anxiety

Interested in swimming open water but nervous? Follow these three tips from coach Jay Peluso for an easy transition from the pool to natural water.

1. If you’re a poor swimmer, wear a wetsuit. They’re buoyant and can help with anxiety.

2. Take breaks. If you get tired or anxious, roll over on your back, look up at the sky and take deep breaths. It’s okay to slow down and relax.

3. Consider the water and weather conditions. A stiff wind can make a calm lake choppy with whitewater. If the water temperature is over 84 degrees, don’t wear a wetsuit because you’ll overheat.

Swim This: Five Adventure Swims

Swim Around Charleston
October 23 – Charleston, S.C.
A 10-mile course takes you around most of the Charleston Peninsula. It’s open to solo swimmers and relay teams up to four people.

Potomac River Swim
June – Point Lookout State Park, Md.
Swimmers tackle 7.5 miles of the mouth of the Potomac where it meets the Chesapeake Bay. 

Seaport Swim
June – Washington D.C.
Pick your distance from .4 miles to two miles. The shorter distances make this an ideal swim for traithletes looking to test their open water mettle.

Swim the Suck
October 8 – Chattanooga, Tenn.
This is a 10-mile downriver swim of the Tennessee River through the Tennessee Gorge. 

Great Chesapeake Bay Swim
June – Annapolis, Md.
Considered one of the classic open water swims in the country, this 4.4-mile, point to point race attracts more than 500 swimmers each year.

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