What the investment-management professional didnt know was that he wasnt done with swimming. Ten years later, a move to San Francisco gave him access to the bay's open water scene, and I started picking up swimming as a way to get active again. Free of sets and clocksall the things I was done doing, he saysI felt freer to swim wherever I wanted to, for however long I wanted to.

Utsumi loved what open-water swimming in the San Francisco Bay served up: cold water, challenging chop, and no two days that are ever the same, even if youre swimming the exact same route. I loved the thought process required when swimming outdoorsHow long can I swim at this temperature? What are the currents doing? Are there seals? And I loved answering the question Can I swim from A to B?

However long stretched from two hours to six hours to eight, and within a yearin 2016Utsumi swam the English Channel (11 hours). He topped that by completing the triple crown of open-water swimming, adding the circumnavigation of Manhattan (7:17) and the Catalina Channel (11:06) in 2017. Hes now four down in the Oceans Seven challenge, the open-water swimming equivalent of the Seven Summits. Hes already booked to attempt the fifth, the Cook Strait (nine to 12 hours) in New Zealand in 2022.

man coming out of water
man coming out of water
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The Brits call open water wild swimming, and what draws so many people like Utsumi isnt just the chance to experience nature from a totally different perspective. Its the skills open water requires of youswimming ability, yes, but also adaptability and grit . Youve got to learn to plan, and youve got to plan to not be able to follow your plan. Its unsettling and exciting that you cant control it, says Utsumi. For him, the fun starts in rough water, but plenty of open-water swims are held in calmer seas, lakes, and rivers, which is your best way to try wild swimming.

Top Tips for Open Water Swimming

Start in the shallows

Check with local authorities that the lake/river/ocean is safe for swimming, or go to meetup.com to find a local open-water swimming club. Your first open-water swim will be an adventure, says Utsumi. The water temperature will be different than a pool. The clarity will be different. You may feel anxious, which can make you tired more quickly. So wear a silicone cap (to stay warm), get a pair of goggles with a wide field of vision (like the Roka R1), and stick to the shallows at first. Stay where you can stand, and swim parallel to shore. Look up and forward frequently to ensure youre not drifting.

Dont hold your breath

As soon as you put your face into the water, exhale. If you get out of breath really quickly while open-water swimming, its likely because youre not exhaling enough, not because youre not inhaling enough. Many swimmers take little sips of air in with each stroke and never exhale. That makes you feel anxious, out of breath, and exhausted. Let it out. Its magic. Treading water to gather yourself is also okay.

Adjust your rhythm

I try to match my stroke tempo with the chop. This might mean speeding up when Im swimming in short-interval waves or lengthening my stroke in longer, rolling waves, says Utsumi. Swimming in rough water is like running in an earthquakeyou dont really know where the ground is going to be. You have to learn to be okay with that and accept that your stroke will misfire and that youre going to get a mouthful of water now and then. Change the tempo of your stroke, your breathing, and maybe even your attitude. Open-water swimmers love the unpredictability (most of the time) and appreciate how it trains you for the rest of your life.

Stop worrying about sharks and other critters

Although hes been bumped by harbor seals and swum with dolphins, Utsumi prefers murky waters where he cant see whats swimming around him, as opposed to a place like Hawaii, where you can see everything. The only way to get over worrying about critters is to know that youre swimming around them and that in most cases, theyre not going to affect you or your swimming."

Get Some Useful Gear: Best Sports Watch for Swimming

Tracking distance in open water is tricky without a watch. The Garmin Swim 2 has a GPS to do that, plus it monitors heart rate and gives you pacing alerts, all in extra-large numbers that you can see through goggles. $200.