Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why Open Water Swimming Is Growing

USA Triathlon provided data and an analysis on how participation in triathlons continues to grow despite economic conditions. The report pointed out that membership in USA Triathlon recently surpassed 125,000, marking an increase from 19,060 where the membership stood before triathlon was added to the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

"The state of the economy has many Americans not only reevaluating their careers, but also their health, relationships and other areas of their lives," said USA Triathlon's CEO Skip Gilbert who used to be a USA Swimming executive. "Many see this as a great time to get in shape and find an activity that is healthy, personally fulfilling and promotes a sense of community. That’s what our sport and our organization are all about. For those already active in the sport, their involvement becomes a relaxing escape during difficult times."

The report stated that there will be over 3,100 sanctioned events in the US in 2009 with the following factors driving its growth:

* Society’s interest in fitness and living a healthy lifestyle
* Media attention on the sport
* Growth in the 30-49 age groups who are looking for varied outlets for fitness and the opportunity to train and race with their growing children
* Peer pressure from friends who have tried the sport
* The ego reward of saying you “are a triathlete”
* Increase in clubs, which create a community concept for men and especially women who enjoy the group training and support atmosphere
* Increase in resources (websites, books, magazines) that provide assistance/education in getting started
* Growth in multisport shops and triathlon specific training and racing gear
* Growth in the number of USAT certified coaches who are able to provide training plans and individual attention for athletes who need guidance and motivation

We considered the similarities and parallels between triathlon's upward trajection and the current growth enjoyed by open water swimming. We believe our sport is growing for many of the same reasons:

1. More open water races are available with more entrepreneurs organizing more professionally-run open water races. There were approximately 220 open water swims in the US about 10 years ago according to our records. There are now over 600 open water races in the US with the global growth even more explosive.

2. The growth of triathlons is directly impacting the growth of open water swimming.

3. Online technology (e.g., Internet, Facebook, email) enables more people to have more information about open water swimming in general and open water races in particular. 20 years ago, it was difficult to find information on open water swimming and you had to look far and wide for entry forms. With search engines and race websites, finding about open water swimming is now easy.

4. Technology (e.g., GPS and forecasting systems) has helped solo swimmers plan and succeed at channel/marathon swims.

5. Swimming, in general, is seeing growth in terms of the number of people who swim for fitness and for competition.

6. The media has often reported that swimming is a great way to maintain fitness, especially when you get older and you experience the stress that running and weight-lifting can place on your body.

7. Open water swimming remains a relatively inexpensive sport to do. Swimsuit, towel and goggles with the low entry fees do not create significant barriers to participation.

8. Introduction of wetsuits helps newcomers handle colder waters.

9. Introduction of the 10K marathon swim at the Beijing Olympics help generate global media interest in the sport.

Upper photo of the La Jolla Rough Water Swim by Annette Buhl.

Copyright © 2009 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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