Before diving into the open waters off the coast of Kovalam (Covelong) for my first open water swimming lesson, Murthy Megavan, the founder of Murthy Surf School, instructs me to don a life jacket and wait 100 meters from the shore, guided only by the random movement of the waves. He advises me to keep calm and engage in conversation with Syed, one of his instructors, who lounges on a surfboard nearby.
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A New Adventure
Striking up a conversation with Syed about various topics, including job losses, the post-COVID economy, and journalism, I try to maintain a sense of calm, despite the light drizzle and the shifting waves. However, as the sun breaks through the previously overcast sky, we are displaced by the waves and swim back to the designated spot, eagerly waiting for Murthy’s arrival.
Upon his arrival on a kayak, Murthy removes my life jacket, replacing it with a bright yellow buoy and provides me with reassurance-filled instructions. He explains that floating effortlessly in the seawater is unique to this location due to the salinity of the sea. As I begin swimming, alternating between freestyle, breaststroke, and the dog paddle, I experience the sensation of weightlessness, with my chin mostly above water. The waves carry me forward, and as I navigate them, I realize that I am venturing into the high seas of Chennai for the first time.
Exploring Open Water Swimming
Upon returning to land, I am both thrilled and relaxed, realizing that this unique feeling is what draws open water swimmers to these waters. Despite the expansive coastline of Tamil Nadu, open water swimming remains relatively unexplored, with many enthusiasts coming from neighboring states such as Karnataka and Goa. However, with the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, there has been a gradual increase in swimmers seeking to venture beyond traditional swimming pools and into the natural waters of the ocean, lakes, and quarries.
Understanding the Ocean
Murthy emphasizes that open water swimming offers a unique opportunity to comprehend the ocean’s dynamics. While it may seem daunting for beginners, a basic understanding of the sea’s behavior, including the tides, swells, currents, and wave breaks, can equip swimmers to safely navigate open waters. With adequate safety measures, swimmers can explore the marine life and the wonders of nature, away from conventional swimming pools.
Safe Locations and Guidelines
Murthy explains the safety of locations such as Kovalam and Mahabalipuram, where the depth gradually increases, and surfers, lifeguards, and fishermen are readily available to assist swimmers in distress. However, he cautions against swimming at popular but unsafe beaches like Marina, Besant Nagar, and Thiruvanmiyur due to the immediate increase in water depth. He also advises on the importance of assessing weather conditions, tides, and waves before entering the open waters.
Sharath Mukundan, a qualified National Institute of Sports (NIS) coach, emphasizes the need for proper assessment and technique while venturing into open water. He runs a swim academy, Wild Swim, and takes a small group of students to Kovalam monthly, focusing on understanding the waves and tides to ensure a safe and fulfilling swimming experience.
Open Water Swimming Community
Reflecting on their experiences, participants share their newfound confidence and fulfillment derived from open water swimming. Clinical psychologist PT Gajalakshmi recommends open water swimming as a therapeutic and confidence-building activity for her clients, while others, like swimmer S Shobika, have conquered their fear of the water through regular open water swimming sessions.
The growing popularity of open water swimming is evident, with events such as AquaFest attracting over 200 participants, including young students with special needs, from various parts of Tamil Nadu. Additionally, enthusiasts participating in triathlons and ironman challenges are drawn to open water swimming for its endurance and exhilarating experience.
Embracing Nature and Personal Growth
Besides the physical benefits, open water swimmers also appreciate the mental clarity and inspiration they gain from the natural surroundings. Sharath highlights the ego-dimming effect of the sea, emphasizing the importance of navigating the ocean as a metaphor for navigating life’s challenges.
Taking the Plunge
For those looking to embark on their open water swimming journey, Murthy Surf School and Wild Swim offer comprehensive training for beginners and intermediate swimmers. These schools provide the necessary guidance and safety measures to ensure a memorable and enriching experience in the open waters of Chennai.
Signing up for open water swimming lessons can be the beginning of an adventurous and introspective journey, offering a newfound appreciation for nature and personal growth. So, if you’re ready to take the plunge, don’t hesitate to reach out to these experienced swim schools and set out on your open water swimming adventure.