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Why I Swim - Sue Fairburn

What a wonderful starting point for all of us who find ourselves treading in the waters of this world.

I swim to offload stress and worries.

I swim to understand my limits.
I swim to draw in beauty.

I swim to feel weightless. I used to scuba dive for the same reason.

I swim to meet up with our local seal; Romeo...

I swim because I can balance on the surface of water – isn’t that what swimming is?

I’m based on Bowen Island, BC Canada, off the west coast of Vancouver. It’s a small island, six miles wide and maybe 12 miles long, with close to 4000 living here year round. Everyone here lives ‘near’ the water. We’ve lived here almost three years and we’re a two minute walk from the ocean.

Epic image of the Canadian Rockies.
I grew up on the prairies, on the other side of the Canadian Rockies. We didn’t swim outdoors because the only water was a fast, cold (mountain-fed) and ‘dangerous’ river that ran through the city. While I spent some summers near water and on water (water skiing), I wasn’t a swimmer. I failed the most basic of swimming lessons, twice! But, when I went to University on the west coast, I first fell in love with seafood and open water, as a Scuba Diver.

I spent hours exploring underwater, as both a hobby and as part of my research in Environmental physiology. Despite my love of the underwater world and the ability to float and intentionally sink to depths, navigating mainly with my breath, I wasn’t a swimmer. I understood about gases and buoyancy and cold water and the limits of our bodies, but I spent very little time just being on the surface of water.

Sue putting on her Turtleback outdoor swimming bag beside a lake

In 2005 I moved to NE Scotland for the love of a good man. He taught me to read water. In the summer, when we’d return to Canada to visit family, we’d spend days exploring and swimming the lakes and the rivers, including that dangerous river in the city of my childhood. Then we became three and with our son we’d spend days just exploring the lakes and rivers of western Canada.

I’ve grown into outdoor swimming.

Attracted by the fact that you can swim like you can walk, slow and steady and socially. Attracted by the variety of sensations - from cold, to salt, to pebbles, to waves. And, attracted by the light of the day, so that when I keep my eyes at or above water level, I can watch the water bend as I stroke out into the open.

I ease myself in as I find that the colder the water, the happier I am. I want to truly understand the limits of my body.

Now, I swim most days. Slightly less in the coldest months. But some days I swim twice. In the peak of summer, I’ll venture down and back for a swim three times in the day. In the shortened days of winter, I’ll seek the light on the water at other beaches around the island, to slowly swim into the cold.

Shot of looking out at the sea, the water is full of foam

I swim because it reminds me of all the layers of our bodies – that our deepest core keeps us warm, our inner lava, while our skin speaks to the cold salt water and keeps speaking long after I come out of the water. I swim in just a swimsuit, year round.

Some days I think I’ll just keep swimming. One day last summer, on a whim, we swam to another island named for the wild onions that grow there.

On my birthday, I swim my age in strokes. As I get older, it’ll get tougher but that’s ok.



Our Why I Swim project aims to give voice to our untold swim stories and strengthen our fantastic community. If you would like to share your story, drop us an email at


If you are new to outdoor swimming and feel inspired to give it a go, please ensure you do so safely. 

Firstly, have a read of our tips for winter swimming here and familiarise yourself with what's useful to have in your wild swim kit.

We would strongly advise trying out your first swim with an experienced cold water swimmer until you are completely confident of your own abilities. 

The Outdoor Swimming Society has a great list of local swimming groups which is well worth checking out and a quick search on Facebook should provide results.

And if you have any questions, pop a post in the Swim Feral Facebook page and our fantastic community of swimmers will be sure to help. 

Happy swimming xx



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