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An Introduction to the Sport of Open Water Swimming

race for the conch

The annual Race for the Conch open-water swimming race will be held at Grace Bay in July.

To help our guests learn more about this sport, we contacted the World Open Water Swimming Association for an introduction to this fascinating and popular pursuit.

What is the attraction of open water swimming?

Everyone is different but open water swimming provides an individual who can swim a strong sense of freedom, adventure, challenge and exploration in a dynamic environment where the variables can range from water temperature to water conditions.

Can anyone do it? Do you need special training?

Yes, but firstly they must of course be able to swim. Pool swimming is dramatically different as you can always get out of the pool, hang on the wall or lane lines. Therefore, the ability to swim or tread water constantly is an essential skill.

What are some misconceptions about the sport?

There are many! For example, do you have to be good or fast? Neither are a requirement.

Do you need to wear a wetsuit? No.

Do you need to swim without a wetsuit? No.

Will a shark eat you? The likelihood of a shark attack during a competitive swim is as close to zero per cent as can be possible. While there have been shark encounters (where a shark is casually cruising in its own element) during a handful of swims in history (e.g., Australia or Florida), there has never been a shark attack during a race that I know of.

Where is the biggest open water swimming community?

In terms of a community, I think big communities include a nice place to swim in that is close to a large metropolitan area with a healthy triathlon community.

This includes London, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Melbourne, Barcelona, Cape Town, Sydney, Honolulu, Cancun, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and several other hotbeds of open water like Sandycove Island (Ireland), Strait of Messina (Italy), Lake Ontario (Canada), Wellington (New Zealand), Miami (Florida), etc.

What makes for a good open water swimming course?

Number One is safety. Is the course close to the shore? Are there sufficient safety personnel on the course?

Number Two is the scenic beauty, both on the land and in the water.

Number Three is the uniqueness of the course (e.g., going around the island or from a well-known point-to-point course).

Number Four is its variability (e.g., does the course have waves, currents, wind, coral reefs, marine life)?

For spectators, where is the best place to watch an open water swimming race?

Most definitely, the best place to see the race is from a boat in order to watch the swimmers up close. The second-best place is either the start or finish where much of the mass participation action is. The third-best place is around the turn buoys when many swimmers try to swim in the same place at the same time, leading to a mass of physicality.

Where is the “biggest” open water swimming race held each year?

In terms of the number of people in a mass participation swim, it is the Sun Moon Lake International Festival in central Taiwan with 25,000 maximum entrants (which they always meet).

In terms of number of people in a competitive event, it is the Midmar Mile in South Africa with about 18,000 entrants annually.

The Top 100 Open Water Swims (in the world; in the US) shows many of the biggest swims.

The Sands at Grace Bay is one of the recommended hotels for the Race for the Conch.

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