Get out of the chlorine and head to the beach to embrace the freedom of open water swimming.
That black line on the bottom of the local pool can be handy. It stops you crashing into things and helps keep you on track, but after a while (yawn), you wonder if picking lint off your clothes might be more interesting than doing another 10 laps. So why not get away from the lane markers (and your comfort zone) and dive into the sea?
Ocean swimming has got big here over the past few years. Why? It has all the same health benefits of swimming laps: it's a great low-impact, whole-body workout, and it helps improve cardiovascular fitness, endurance and muscle strength as well as coordination and flexibility. But the reason many people are choosing to swim in the ocean rather than the pool is the freedom.
"You're out on the frontier. When you cross that shark net for the very first time, that's your first cathartic experience… all of a sudden, you're in unprotected territory," says Paul Ellercamp from oceanswims.com, a popular go-to website for all things ocean swimming. But with the liberty of the deep blue yonder comes the responsibility of making sure you're ready for it, and being able to swim is just the first step. You've got to be confident enough to handle all the sea can throw at you - waves, rips, chop, swell and, well, the local wildlife.
Swim coach and former Olympian Graeme Brewer suggests dipping your toes in a harbour or ocean pool to ease yourself into it if your surf skills aren't up to scratch. "Finding a calm venue is the first goal. If you haven't been in the surf before, it wouldn't be a sensible idea to run into an open beach where there are three- or four-foot waves breaking on your head."
Alexandra Evans, female winner of the recent 1km Great Barrier Reef Swim at Heron Island, Qld, agrees. "Go to a safe beach and get to know it. Speak to other swimmers, or join a group and learn from them. Then go in an ocean swim you feel comfortable with, just for the fun of it. It's also good to bring a friend along."
Although many ocean swim events are races and the winners do get something shiny to take home at the end of the day, most people who enter aren't in it for that. "It used to be only the real fossils and prunes who'd get out there and brave the conditions, but now there are punters of all abilities and ages, wearing fins if they need to. And that's part of the attraction. You don't have to be a competitive swimmer to have a go," says Brewer.
So next time you head to the pool, take a detour and try a little ocean swimming. You may not have the little black line to follow, but you'll have an all-over body workout, in among the waves, then a little people-watching as a reward.
THE PREP: First things first, you need to be able to swim - well. If you're not confident in the water, head to your local pool for some lessons. Just a bit rusty? Join a squad or get a coach to help improve your technique.
THE GEAR: One of the best things about swimming is that it's super cheap, if not free. All you need is a decent pair of swimmers (that aren't prone to malfunction in the surf) and a pair of well-fitting goggles. You can also use fins if you like, especially for serious training.
THE TRAINING: Brewer says you should aim for three swimming sessions a week in the pool in preparation for an ocean swim, but if you only get two in, you should still see some improvement. "Start with 200-300m at a time and build up from there," he suggests.
FIVE OF THE BEST: With events running around the country almost every weekend from November until June, you're spoilt for choice. Here are just a few:
GREAT BARRIER REEF SWIM
October 10-14, 2013
Set on idyllic Heron Island, there are two scheduled swims - 1km and 3km - as well as swim clinics. See heronisland.com
THE BIG SWIM
January 27, 2013
This iconic 2.5km swim runs from Sydney's Palm Beach to Whale Beach. The 1km event (The Little Big Swim) is perfect for novices. See thebigswim.org.au
ROTTNEST CHANNEL SWIM
February 23, 2013
Tackle this 19.7km swim from Cottesloe Beach, WA, to Rottnest Island solo or as
part of a team. Check out rottnestchannelswim.com.au
LORNE PIER TO PUB
January 12, 2013
This Victorian 1.2km swim is one of the most popular open water swims in the world. See lornesurfclub.com.au
February 3, 2013
With 1km, 2km and 9km events, this Sydney fave runs from Dee Why to Manly. Find out more at coleclassic.com