During the pandemic, when Miriam Leitko couldn’t swim because the pools were closed, the lifelong swimmer built a lap pool at her home in Willis, Texas. Once travel restrictions lifted in 2021, she signed up for a week-long trip to Hawaii with SwimVacation, a Maine-based tour operator specializing in open water swimming.
“Swimming in open water is energizing,” says Ms. Leitko, 64, who has taken 12 trips with the company. The tours, she said, allow her to leave her stress “literally in the ocean.”
Summer vacations are often built around the joys of cannonballing in a lake or splashing in the ocean. These tours, on the other hand, build trips around organized swims, where you can dive among sea lions in the Galápagos, swim from island to island in the Adriatic, or glide over coral reefs in the Caribbean.
“You never feel smaller than when you’re in the ocean, which has a transformative effect,” says Hopper McDonough, the founder and partner of SwimVacation, which bases most of its trips on yachts in places like Turkey, where the next available departure is September 2024 ($6,995 for a week).
“After the pandemic, we sold out two years in advance,” he said.
The swimming wave
Whether participants are seeking transformation, pursuing a Covid-strapped passion, or embarking on revenge journeys, swim tour operators say they are experiencing a tidal wave of growth.
Founded in 2003, UK-based company SwimTrek links the explosion to the pandemic-driven outdoor movement.
Nearly a third of SwimTrek’s customers — and growing — are from the United States, where the company has added vacations in Hawaii and Oregon (five days at Oregon’s Cascade Lakes cost $2,600), as well as trips to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.
“When you’re swimming in open water, every experience is different, whether that’s the state of the sea, the tides, or the wildlife,” says Simon Murie, the founder of SwimTrek. “That’s the beauty, the unpredictability.”
Strel Swimming Adventures, founded by Martin Strel, a marathon swimmer who holds the Guinness World Record for distance swimming at 5,268 miles, and his son, Borut, met the wave with New Mexican destinations including the Sea of Cortez (seven-day trips in October and November from $1,990). The company also offers tours in Greece, Slovenia and Turkey.
According to Will Cairns, the founder of the company, Active England, an English adventure operator, has seen “exponential” growth in its swim trips since travel resumed. The trips include four days in Devon from June to September for £759 (about $984), with swimming in the sea, an estuary and, after a two-mile walk in Dartmoor National Park, a natural pool in the River Dart.
“We have what I call ‘advanced swimmers’ who measure their strokes in miles,” Mr Cairns said. “But the majority of people do it for the love of the water.”
Wild swimming for everyone
Most tour operators divide swimmers into subgroups based on speed and claim to take everyone from former Olympians to occasional divers interested in swimming two to five kilometers a day (open water swimming is usually expressed in metric terms).
Not all new swims are hardcore. Bluetits Chill Swimmers, a group dedicated to wild swimming – a popular term in Britain for swimming in natural bodies of water – recently partnered with a travel company to offer swimming trips to places like Iceland, where a five-day package includes hot springs scuba diving. includes , the sea and the canyon at the divide between tectonic plates (the £2,265 autumn trip sold out shortly after being announced this spring).
“Swimming with a group of people who are like-minded and don’t want to swim marathons is a wonderful, joyful opportunity,” said Sian Richardson, founder of the group, which celebrates participation rather than competition and now has more than 120,000 members in community groups from Copenhagen to the United States. Huge lakes.
Much Better Adventures offers wild swimming on its multi-sport tours, which also includes hiking and biking in places like the Canadian Rockies (10 days from $2,103), the Canary Islands (six days from $1,166), and Dominica (nine days from $2,375).
“We don’t believe all wild swimming should be about speed, tugs or fancy neoprene,” Sam Bruce, the co-founder of Much Better Adventures, wrote in an email. “Instead, just being in the water in a wild place is enough.”
Whatever the difficulty of the tour, safety is a selling point. Most operators send boats to guide open water swimmers and choose their locations to avoid dangerous currents, high winds and boat traffic. Trips also go where it might be difficult to swim alone.
“Someone else did the planning for you,” says Kate Rew, the founder of the Outdoor Swimming Society, a British volunteer group promoting outdoor swimming, who traveled with SwimTrek. If you’re going to be riding a few miles in new places, she said, “you need a lot of knowledge and local contacts.”
And there is at least one additional benefit. “People sleep so well,” said Active England’s Mr Cairns. “Swimming two to three times a day is tiring.”
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