During the pandemic, when Miriam Leitko couldn’t swim because pools were closed, the lifelong swimmer built a lap pool at her home in Willis, Texas. As soon as travel restrictions were lifted in 2021, she signed up for a week-long trip to Hawaii with SwimmingA Maine-based tour operator that specializes in underwater swimming.
“Overwater swimming is becoming lively,” said 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 pleasures of canoeing in a lake or splashing in the ocean. In contrast, these tours build trips around organized swims that might involve diving among sea lions in the Galapagos, swimming from island to island in the Adriatic or gliding over coral reefs in the Caribbean.
“You never feel smaller than when you’re in the ocean, which has a transformative effect,” said Hopper McDonough, the founder and partner in SwimVacation, which bases most of its trips on yachts in places like Turkey, where the next available departure is September 2024 ($6,995 for one week).
“After the pandemic, we sold out two years in advance,” he said.
The swimming wave
Whether participants are looking for transformation, dealing with a Covid-blocked passion or revenge travelswimming tour operators say they are experiencing a wave of growth.
The company based in England SwimTrekestablished in 2003, links the explosion to the outdoor movement driven by a pandemic.
Nearly a third of SwimTrek’s customers — and growing — are from the United States, where the company added vacations in Hawaii and Oregon (five days in Oregon. Cascade Lakes costs $2,600) as well as trips to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.
“When you swim in open water, every experience is different, whether that’s the state of the sea, the tides or the wildlife,” said 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 a distance swim of 5,268 kilometers, and his son, Borut, met the increase 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.
Active England, an English adventure operator, has seen “exponential” growth in its swimming tours since travel resumed, according to Will Cairns, the company’s founder. Its trips include four days in Devon from June to September for £759 (about $984), with swims 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 swims in kilometres,” Mr Cairns said. “But most 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 bears interested in swimming two to five kilometers a day (open water swimming is usually expressed in metric terms).
Not all new swim tours are hard core. Bluetits Chill Swimmersa group dedicated to wild swimming – a popular term in the UK for swimming in natural bodies of water – recently partnered with a travel company to offer swimming trips to places such as Icelandwhere a five-day package includes soaks in hot springs, the sea and the crack at the crack between tectonic plates (the £2,265 autumn trip sold out shortly after it was announced this spring).
“Swimming with a group of like-minded people who don’t want to do a marathon swim is a wonderful, joyous opportunity,” said Sian Richardson, who founded the group, which celebrates participation rather than competition and now has more than 120,000 members. in community groups from Copenhagen to the Great Lakes.
Much Better Adventures offers wild swimming on its multi-sport tours that also include hiking and biking in places like the Canadian Rockies (10 days of $2,103), the canaries (six days of $1,166) and Dominic (nine days from $2,375).
“We don’t believe that all wild swimming should be about speed, drag floats or fancy wetsuits,” 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 level of the tour, safety is a selling point. Most operators send boats to escort underwater swimmers and choose their locations to avoid dangerous currents, strong winds and boat traffic. Trips also go where it can be difficult to swim alone.
“Someone else has done the planning for you,” said Kate Rew, the founder of the Outdoor Swimming Society, a British volunteer group that promotes outdoor swimming, who traveled with SwimTrek. If you’re doing a few kilometers in new places, she said, “you need a lot of knowledge and local contacts.”
And there is at least one side benefit. “People are sleeping so well,” said Mr Cairns of Active England. “Two or three swims a day is exhausting.”
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