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Metro explores the latest trends emerging on the West Coast of Canada.

The freedom of open water swimming in Vancouver

Vancouver is at the centre of the growing trend of open water swimming.

Open water swimmers at Kits beach.

Amy Logan/Metro

Open water swimmers at Kits beach.

Every Monday and Thursday during the summer months, a swelling crowd of hearty Vancouverites suit up just off Kits Beach, getting ready to swim a course in the open ocean.

They are part of Vancouver Open Water Swim Association (VOWSA), a volunteer-run group committed to making open water swimming safe, accessible and enjoyable for a growing range of participants.

A few beaches away at Jericho, Sea Hiker offers various open water courses, aiming to help people overcome their fear of open water swimming, regardless of level.

Founded by Peter Scott, an avid swimmer and free diving champion, they "specialize in helping swimmers understand how to be more efficient with their stroke so they can relax and enjoy their swims, ultimately swimming up to whatever level they are aiming for, including a first triathlon, ironman, or even 10 km swims," said Scott.

And Vancouver is at the centre of this growing trend.

As Scott put it, "Our beaches are relatively clean and safe compared to other cities, the water is quite warm from May to October, and the views from off shore are excellent."

With open water swimming an official event at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, an increasing number of initiates are challenging themselves.

In June of this year, Jessi Harewicz swam over 30 kms across the Georgia Straight, pushing herself for more than 11 hours. Her next goal: The English Channel.

Vancouver has a long history of open water swimming, from Joe Fortes teaching children to swim in English Bay in the 1920s, to Ann Meraw's various feats, including swimming across Howe Sound and back at age 13 and saving over 60 people from drowning over the years.  In 1931, 40 participants swam from Lighthouse Park to Kits to commemorate the opening of Kits Pool.

For people wanting a timed race, VOWSA hosts the Open Water Swim Series, which includes the annual Bay Challenge, from West Van to Kits Beach.

"More people than ever are taking up swimming for fitness, outdoor adventure, and even just a kind of meditation, away from cell phones and the noise of the city," said Scott.

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