News & Media

Jonathan Cowie's top five tips for newcomers

We caught up with Jonathan Cowie, Editor of Outdoor Swimmer magazine, who is hosting this year’s Children with Cancer UK Swim Serpentine festival to find out more about his love of open water swimming and his top five tips for newcomers to the sport.

Open water swimming has taken Jonathan to numerous events in picturesque rivers and lakes in the UK, the USA and several European countries including Germany, Poland and Latvia.

However, it was a sport he only rediscovered his passion for in his early 30s when he decided he wanted to get fit again.

“I’d always been pretty outdoorsy but I guess I lost that in my 20s, so getting back into it has been part of the whole rediscovery of being outdoors,” Jonathan said.

Summer holidays

Growing up in Darlington, County Durham, Jonathan had easy access to some beautiful open water spaces. He said: “I swam when I was a kid, I was on the school swimming team. We used to go to the Yorkshire Dales quite often, especially in the summer holidays for days out, and we’d go swimming in the River Swale.

“When I went to university, I stopped swimming completely. I got to about 30 and I was a bit overweight and not particularly fit or happy, so I started swimming again at my local pool.

“I got back into it and decided I needed a challenge, so I entered the Great Swim (in 2009) which is a one-mile swim in Windermere. From there, I got more and more into it.”


If you’re a newcomer to open water swimming and want to know how best to enjoy the day, Jonathan has the following five top tips:

1) Enjoy yourself 
Even if you’re there to race, it’s supposed to be fun, so make sure you enjoy yourself.

2) Use the dunk zone
The water might be slightly colder than you’re used to, so make sure you use the dunk zone to acclimatise to the temperature before your swim. Swish some water down your wetsuit, on your neck and on your wrists.

3) Warm up on land
Once out of the dunk zone, make sure you stretch and warm up on land. Do some star jumps and keep yourself moving. This will mean that the water in your wetsuit will be warm when you start your swim.

4) Swim at your own pace
If you’re not there to race then get into the water towards the back and the side of your wave. This will help you avoid getting caught up with any faster swimmers and will enable you to swim at your own pace.

5) Remember to breath!
The water temperature, the wide-open space and being surrounded by hundreds of other swimmers can take people out of their comfort zone. However, remember to breath normally, stay relaxed, take it nice and easy. You are in a safe environment.

"Cold water swimming events are a lot of fun. There's a real sense of community."

-Jonathan Cowie, Outdoor Swimmer

Jonathan swam at the first two Swim Serpentine events in 2016 and 2017. He said: “It’s a great event. What I really like about it is that it’s quite social. There are lots of swimmers with different abilities. There are guys who go off and race it and there are also people who are doing breaststroke and just enjoying it.”

Jonathan really enjoys the sense of comradery at swimming events, especially the cold water events he’s participated in in Eastern Europe. He said: “Cold water swimming events are a lot of fun. There’s a real sense of community. Even if you don’t know anyone or you don’t speak the language, you are immediately welcomed. Swimming is a very friendly sport in general but even more so the winter side of it.”


Jonathan will be hosting the Children with Cancer UK Swim Serpentine festival for the second consecutive year and he urges everyone to check it out before or after their swim.

He said: “It’s a really good introduction to all the different adventures you can have with swimming outdoors. You can meet some really interesting people.

“For example, this year we have Lindsey Cole, who swam down the Thames dressed as a mermaid. She then went on this amazing adventure where she dipped around the country, meeting people on social media and being invited to swim with them.

“By doing that, she got all the way to Scotland, which shows that really great sense of community. Maybe people who don’t swim outdoors regular don’t realise that community exists.”