Open-water swimming all the rage in Utah

(Courtesy photo)
Swimmers try to distance themselves from the pack early in the one-mile...
Story by Matt Gerrish
Standard-Examiner staff
June 22, 2011
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There’s just something appealing about a big body of water.

Not a swimming pool, mind you, but one large enough to really spread out and push yourself beyond the confined length of a local pool.

For many athletes across the country, after logging thousands upon thousands of laps, the black line at the bottom of the pool has become too boring and repetitive, so they have moved their workouts to the great outdoors.

Welcome to open-water swimming.

A sport often reserved for budding triathletes, open-water swimming is gaining a foothold as a sport all its own, and Utah is no exception.

Just ask Josh Green, a Salt Lake City resident who has competed in over 20 open water events, and recently helped organize the inaugural Great Salt Lake Open Water Marathon Swim.

“The big thing for me is simply being outside,” Green said. “There are so many beautiful places to swim around here. Mountain ranges are a little better to surround myself with than a pool deck. The big difference is that you really feel like you are going somewhere and there are a lot of places where you have the opportunity to do that in Utah.”

Whether it be in a pond, lake or even the ocean, those opportunities aren’t limited to young athletes. Open-water swimming features forgiving enough conditions to allow anyone to participate. For example, the June 11 races in Great Salt Lake had competitors ranging from ages 22-62.

However, the sport isn’t exactly a walk in the park. Unlike the comfortable and controlled environment of a pool, open-water swimming has its own set of challenges that sets itself apart from traditional swim competitions.

“It’s difficult to compare your times outside,” Green said. “Conditions are always changing. One day the water is glassy and calm and the next it could be rough with currents and waves. And depending on where you swim, it can be really cold, too. … much colder than a heated pool.”

While open-water swimming isn’t entirely new in the public eye, the growing amount of interest in triathlons is giving the sport a boost.

U.S. Masters Swimming — a national organization that promotes fitness in adults through swimming — has seen a 40 percent jump in enrollment since 2000. Currently boasting more than 50,000 members, the club provides organized workouts and events to those who wish to improve in the swimming leg of their triathlons.

“Triathlons are getting popular really fast around here (Utah), so everyone is participating (in open water events) to get ready for their triathlons,” said Brandon Slaugh, 22, who won the one-mile race in Great Salt Lake this year. “I do it mostly for the triathlon, but I love camping and stuff, so being outside and having nice scenery around is definitely a bonus.”

In 2010 there were over 60 triathlon-related events in Utah that included swimming legs, with at least that many already slated for 2011. This bodes well for the increasingly popular sport of open water.

Utah already has one established event, which was voted one of America’s top 50 open water swims by Swimmer Magazine. The Deer Creek Open Water Marathon Swim is scheduled for Aug. 13 at Deer Creek Reservoir just northeast of Provo, which will host races of one mile, 5k, 10k and 10 miles.

For more information on how to register or attend, visit http://www.deercreekopenwater.com/.

Matt Gerrish

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The Ogden Nature Center is located at 966 W. 12th St. in Ogden. For more information, visit www.ogdennaturecenter.org or call 801-621-7595.

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