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Swimming + Me | #4

These longer summer days are a joy! More time for everything, or so it seems. Great if you are heading to the lake after work for distance training, your first ever dip or a summery sunset social swim.

We have made some wonderful friendships open water swimming, one of which was meeting Raf Oya. This month we present to you our 4th account of Swimming + Me. It’s a great intro to our friend Raf and an insight to his fabulous relationship with swimming. Thank you Raf!



It was 1960 and I can still remember the stream in the mountains in Miraflores de la Sierra, a small village north of Madrid where I lived as a 4 year old Spanish boy. My friends and I would swim and jump down the waterfalls into icy cold pools while my gran did the washing downstream on a gravely beach.

No swimming lessons and no health and safety.

On emigrating to GB when I was 7 years old, my first summer was spent as a season ticket holder at Banbury open air lido where I spent almost all of my time. I remember the 10ft deep end and diving boards, and the 2ft 9” shallow end where I could shallow dive and scrape my toenails on the rough concrete bottom.

Holidays in Devon and Cornwall with my family, jumping the waves at Woolacombe bay with my dad. Playing truant from school and jumping off the railway bridge on the river Cherwell.

Wonderful memories, which I repeated till I left school at 15.

During the next 30 years swimming wasn’t as important in my life, although I dipped here and there when I got an opportunity, and it wasn’t till I hit nearly 50 that I started to get serious about it again. A sort of midlife crisis took me to the triathlon world, where for 7 or 8 years I competed in various sprint and middle distance triathlons here and there. I remember a summer in June at Blenheim with a neoprene suit on in 19C water thinking that it was so cold I couldn’t breathe.

Strangely enough though I found this part of the event the most rewarding on so many levels. Even though you are in a mass event, while swimming, you are on your own inside your thoughts, and that is a great place for me to be.

I needed a challenge and I found a group who were planning to swim the length of the non- tidal river Thames and just caught them as they began.

That was probably the most enjoyable and social thing I have ever done with a group of total strangers who became some of my very closest friends.

We swam each weekend starting where we got out the weekend before. We saw the British countryside from a totally different perspective, swimming through the Cotswold hills and through the heart of England right through to the capital city.

Well, there was no stopping me now and the swimming challenge had to continue, so I moved on to other areas of swimming.

Again with a total bunch of strangers who were to become great friends, I travelled to the Lake District, joined a swimming group, and dabbled with some very different swimming conditions.

The idea of swimming in a big expanse of water with the unpredictable weather was amazing, and I found that there was no panic, no fear, just a glow of peace and oneness with the water, which took me by total surprise.

A friend and I swam a 2 way Buttermere in a howling gale and horizontal rain with short choppy waves smashing our faces on the outward swim, and a virtual surf back on the return. Amazing.

I ditched the wetsuit, except for fun swims and events, and started to learn how to feel the water properly.

It was only then that I stopped thinking about how fast I could swim and concentrate instead on how far I could swim, and how long I could tolerate the cold.

Surprisingly, I found this easier than I imagined and I was soon was travelling up to Cumbria every school holiday and long weekend to swim and tick off yet another lake.

During the last 5 years I have swum several Buttermere circuits, 2 way Crummock Water, (probably my favourite swim), a one way Windermere, several one way and 2 way Wastwater, (my favourite being a circular lap) and many many tarns and rivers. I’ve been to Snowdonia and swum in Glaslyn among other high cold Llyns, (tarns in welsh), and still have a hit list to accomplish. Conniston one way this year as well as my 5th dart 10k.

I am a truly addicted swimmer now and can’t imagine going for more than a week without my fix, summer or winter. Thank you swim shed crew for joining me at stony cove and becoming yet another part of my swimming family.

I started to experiment with winter swimming and in my first year tested my body at Tooting Beck Lido cold water championships, then at Chillswim event in Windermere, and at PHISH again in London, events which I have repeated for the last four years.

I have swum several ice kilometres, and last year hoped to do swim an official ice mile, but unfortunately cannot do it under IISA rules till a heart problem I have goes away. Maybe I’ll just do it unofficially.

It’s been a wonderful journey and I have made so many friends and discoveries about myself along the way. Swimming is and will always remain a very important part of my life.

This is a picture of my friend Boot the Labrador and I swimming in Windermere

before breakfast.

My swimming journey will continue into the foreseeable future and even at my age, there are still achievable goals that I intend to attempt.

After this year's Conniston swim, I will be swimming the length of the last remaining lake on my list in Cumbria, Ulswater, then my ultimate goal is to swim a 2 way Windermere before attempting the cold and very challenging Loch Lomond, the ultimate fresh water challenge in the UK in my opinion.

The channel has never really lured me in the same way as freshwater challenges, but maybe, just maybe.

After that who knows, but I’m sure that as long as I can move my limbs I will trudge off into the British countryside in search of tarns, rivers and lakes to visit or re swim, and meet even more wonderful people who share this passion which levels and removes all class and barriers.

Raf Oya


So for now, keep us in the LOOP by using #theswimshed for all of your swim adventures and watery escapades!

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