Are tow floats a threat to the freedom of open water swimming?

If there’s one thing ocean swimmers value the most in this country, it’s freedom.

Freedom to swim anywhere, any time, with anyone.

And with freedom, comes connection.

We shun excess en masse.

The more natural we are, the closer we get to nature.

It’s cozzies, goggles and a cap for good measure.

Yes, wetsuits have their place, but not for the purest.

So to jammers, swim skins and neoprene buoyancy shorts, which have gained the ire of the establishment over the years.

Hi-vis vests have also tried to infiltrate the sport, but have mostly been kept at bay.

More recently, the new-gen have embraced sports watches and their ‘vanity-induced’ over-inflation of performance and swim mapping.

So what of the latest challenge to the unadulterated form of our sport, tow floats?

For the uninitiated, tow floats are just as the name suggests, an inflatable floating device, tethered to you, that you tow around when swimming.

They provide a means of flotation for safety, increase visibility in the water, allow you to carry medical needs like asthma inhalers, and offer a safe haven for your keys, wallet and phone.

They’re commonplace in the UK, but we’re talking about a place that regularly debates whether open water swimming should even be allowed at all.

In fact, in the UK and Europe, you’d be hard-pressed to find an open water swimming event you can participate in without a tow float – and there are not even any waves in these events! (can you imagine swimming through the surf with a tow float?)


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If the thought of compulsory tow floats sends a shiver down your spine, I’m with you.

Whilst I think they have merit in some circumstances and I don’t begrudge people using them at all, I’d hate to think they ever find their way into the mainstream in Australia, or heaven forbid, insurers start insisting on them for events.

If you want to remain free and connected only to nature while you swim, choose safer swimming locations free of motorized watercraft, always swim with a friend and use a key safe to store your valuables while you swim.

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