Where can I swim in open water in Fairfax County, Virginia?
July 30, 2014 9:49 AM   Subscribe

I - rather foolishly perhaps - registered for an upcoming triathlon, which will include an open water swim in a local lake. Like a lot of beginning triathletes I gather, I find the swimming portion the most intimidating so I've been taking some lap classes at nearby rec centers, etc. But I'd like to get some open water experience before race day. This is turning out to be the last great taboo. Skateboarding may not be a crime, but it sure looks like swimming is. What can I do?

The lake where the race will be held is right out. It's open one day a year for this race, and the organizers are terrified that NIMBY-ish waterfront homeowners will rescind even this grudging permission if people practice in their lake out of turn. It's apparently been an issue and threats have been leveled. So that's out. The County has plenty of lovely parks with lakes, including the very convenient Lake Fairfax - which expressly prohibits swimming. It looks like anybody with so much as a large puddle in their back yard is scared to death of liability issues and no swimming is allowed. I don't really want to try the Potomac - more dangerous and not the kind of open water I need.

So where do area triathletes go to get in open water practice around here?
posted by Naberius to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I can't help with the location, but I will say that the biggest part of the difference between an open-water triathlon/race and practicing for it is the elbows of a few hundred people in your ears, having your head kicked accidentally, and so on.

It might not be the answer you're looking for but even an open-water swim won't replicate race day. If you're comfortable circle-swimming laps with 5-10 people per lane in a pool, that's already really good experience, especially if this is a fairly warm non-wetsuit event.
posted by kcm at 9:54 AM on July 30, 2014

Any of these work?
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 10:23 AM on July 30, 2014

Best answer: When I was in DC I would go to Sandy Point in Maryland.

If you can get out there (or to any of the four linked by Lazlo), I'd highly recommend it. Not being able to see the bottom of the lake when swimming (or have a wall to hang onto) can sometimes freak people out. Having an opportunity to get used to that feeling can be reassuring.

Also, a friend of mine is a tri coach in the area. It looks like she is hosting two open water swim clinics in Woodbridge, VA in August.
posted by statsgirl at 10:38 AM on July 30, 2014

Response by poster: The National Harbor one is the one of those I was aware of, but my understanding is it's been torpedoed by... wait for it... liability insurance concerns and is no longer happening.

Annapolis? Really? Spotsylvania, Really??

Then there's the Gunston Manor option (only about an hour away from me), which sounds possible, and Google maps it to something called FXCM, which sounds like it refers to Fairfax County Masters, an area swim team for adults. But their web site for some reason is cubu-masters.org, which now points to a Japanese language site about food, based on the photos.

I really do appreciate the link - I don't want to sound ungrateful for the help and that is helpful. I'm just increasingly frustrated. As Emily Long says, “Open water options around here suck.”
posted by Naberius at 10:53 AM on July 30, 2014

Yeah, I was going to suggest Sandy Point as well. It's a nice beach.
posted by hydropsyche at 11:10 AM on July 30, 2014

Third-ing Sandy Point. You don't even have to cross the Bay Bridge to get there. And it is a legit beach. My husband didn't believe me when I said that there was a beach nearby until we went. And it is kind of cool to swim near the Bay Bridge.

If you want to check out other options, here is the list of state parks in Maryland and Virginia that offer swimming. Personally, I'm in D.C. and I sat one day and plugged most of those into Google Maps to see where were the closest places to go and Sandy Point was easily the closest for me. You may be able to find a county or municipal park with swimming but I couldn't find one that looked promising.
posted by kat518 at 11:17 AM on July 30, 2014

Here is a Washington Post list of the best beaches near D.C. I'm not sure how old it is, though.
posted by kat518 at 11:24 AM on July 30, 2014

Best answer: Hi, this is your local DMV-area triathlon expert.

It was almost canceled this year, but the WaveOne* Thursday-evening swim series at National Harbor is actually happening. There's one tomorrow. Even though you said you don't want to try the Potomac, it's not dangerous--you're in a protected cove (no current), with lifeguards (on shore and in kayaks) watching you carefully. The water quality is monitored and the swim is canceled if it's remotely unsafe. If you go, just get there on time; they expect people to check in early, hit the water at the listed starting time, and be out before the sun hits the horizon.

*I have no affiliation with them apart from being a former season-pass holder.
posted by psoas at 11:56 AM on July 30, 2014

Also, I've been to Gunston Manor and it's swim-at-your-own-risk, not to mention the water is thick with hydrilla. If you were more experienced I'd say you may be fine, but in your situation I'd counsel against it.
posted by psoas at 12:03 PM on July 30, 2014

Response by poster: It was almost canceled this year, but the WaveOne* Thursday-evening swim series at National Harbor is actually happening.

Oh, that is good to know! Yeah, I don't mind swimming down there. By "Potomac" I realize I was thinking more of the river upstream of town, where it's much more river-y and less bay-like. Tomorrow won't work for me, but I'll look into subsequent Thursdays and see if I can get into one.

And I guess otherwise, it's just man up and schlep out to Sandy Point. I suppose I can make a day of it. Take Madame Naberius along, hang out on the beach, then go into Annapolis for dinner or something.

Would have been nice to find a place I could just go to for an hour after work and swim, but I guess that just isn't possible. This will do. Thanks everyone!
posted by Naberius at 12:38 PM on July 30, 2014

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