Interest spikes in open water swimming
By Marina-Rae Gill, Reporter
Since the beginning of lockdown, many locals have found they have much more time on their hands. Due to less school, work, or cancelled activities, numerous people have discovered new skills and hobbies to pass the time. Throughout lockdown, Vashon Swim Group, an open-water swimming club, has been gaining numbers very quickly as many have discovered it to be the perfect new use for their time.
Joe Yarkin, a long-time swimmer in Vashon Swim Group, noticed the spike in interest and participation in open-water swimming when COVID-19 began.
“In the Sound here, I started [swimming] the winter of 2019 … and there were only five or six or seven members at the time.” Yarkin said. “Now they’ve started a group on an app called Meet Up … and I think they have seventy people signed on the app.”
Part of the draw towards swimming in the ocean is being able to swim among the wildlife and along the sea bed.
“I swim all year, and in the winter the water … stays really nice overall.” Yarkin said. “In the late summer, it’s so clear. At times it’s like being in a Jacques Cousteau movie. … I’ve had a lot of marine mammal encounters, [and] it’s so much fun.”
Despite the immersive experience open-water swimming provides, the sport remains largely unknown to young swimmers.
“It’s undiscovered by teens right now from what I can see,” Yarkin said, “ for swimmers, especially people that love to swim in the pool, I’d give it a try. And ideally you’d swim both.”
Unfortunately the gear required for open-water swimming can be quite expensive, but many swimmers have found ways to make it more accessible to try. Throughout the group, members loan gear, and find cheaper options for beginners. The group even has a sponsorship with a manufacturing company.
“We have a deal with one of the local manufacturers called Blue Seventy, and they give a discount to people that swim with the swim group. We’re generally talking probably a few hundred dollars to get geared up,” Yarkin said. “A lot of our members go on eBay and… get full suits for half the price … Just this week we loaned a suit out [and] took people out for the first time.”
Yarkin remarked how swimming changed the way he saw Vashon. Where once he was bored of living on the island, Yarkin now has an increased appreciation for the wildlife, and has found himself wishing he had discovered open-water swimming sooner.
“I wish I’d discovered this when I was young, because I would have loved it. And I think I probably shared this with a lot of youngsters on the island, and that is … I was kind of bored with the island,” Yarkin said. “But swimming changed all that. When you are in there … and look eye to-eye with one of these little harbor seals or see a sea lion, It’s [the] wilderness.”