10 faffs of outdoor swimming (not the only 10!) 


  • verb:to spend time in ineffectual activity (‘they faffed about’)
  • noun: a lot of ineffectual activity (‘some faff occurred’). 

My blog post in 2013 described faff in the context of DofE expeditions. But faff is eminently transferable, and over the last 18 months that I have been outdoor swimming there have been many faffs. We swimmers embrace the faff – it usually adds to the experience! Faffs usually fall into one of the 10 faffotypes outlined here…

NB those marked with a star were from a list published by Cambridge University Hill Walking Club, author Rob McQueen – thank you for the stimulus…

1. Transport Faff
 – this can begins some days before a swim further afield. Who will drive? How many seats do they have? What about space for bags? Much discussion via online messages, but no-one will ever be entirely sure what’s happening until the day. 

2. Initial faff* – on arrival at parking spot there will be inevitable minutes spent on hugging fellow swimmers, repacking of bags and waiting for latecomers. Also includes the positioning of bags on beach/wall/riverbank and deciding exactly where to enter the water. 

3. Time-related faffs 

  • Über faff* – prolonged faff for all manner of adjustments, food, tea, sleep etc..may lead to further clothing faff – see 5.
  • Micro faff*- small but often essential faff performed without disrupting the progress of anyone else e.g unpacking/repacking bag so that clothing is in reverse order for changing.
  • Turbo faff*- performed so quickly that even you don’t stop eg. hat on/off whilst walking.

4. Cluster faff* – everyone faffs simultaneously, although over different things. Likely to have a positive feedback loop – faff = more faff = even more faff…

Cluster faff in full flow

5. Clothing faff – any length from turbo to uber, involving any clothing. Usually altering layers having walked too fast (layers off), or having had to pause due to some überfaff (layers on – see above). Clothing faff can also occur at home (what to wear for the inclement weather but allowing for stripping off?), and by the car (what to leave, what to take?). Includes Wetsuit faff – of course this is optional. It is debatable whether the benefits of neoprene once in the water are offset by the a) dry faff when putting it all on and b) the far worse wet/sandy/sticky faff when trying to remove it all with numb hands. 

6. Nav faff – some swimmers love OS maps, others not so much, preferring to work on memory – “I think it’s by this tree that we turn”. Either works, and both have their merits, to be discussed at a later date. 

7. Prandial Faff* – When any type of faff takes sufficiently long that the people waiting decide to eat some food – causing further delay.

8. Photo faff* – time taken to set up a specific picture (usually with social media in mind), retake picture with multiple poses, and alter camera settings in between (“hang on by that seal, I’m just changing it to Pano”).

9. Aquafaff – the water itself rarely causes faff, yet any number of faffs can come from its depths;

  • Seaweed faff – caught round legs, tangled in toes and fingers, masquerading as…
  • Jellyfish faff – even the thought of them can promote an epic faff – moving along the beach, checking from a high vantage point, huge swim diversions around floating plastic bags etc. Actual contact may require medical faff, which is not covered in this post. 
  • Dead seagull faff – ’nuff said. 
  • Seal faff – is that a seal or not? Shall I get in or not? Perhaps I’ll just look on in awe of its swimming ability/teeth for a while…

No faffing about with this pinniped!

    10. Post-swim faff – comes in two parts; 

    1. Changing faff – naked parts are thrown (literally) to the wind in the name of reducing the length of time exposed on a chilly seafront or riverbank. The faff factor is augmented by damp socks, too-small towels, lost pants and numb extremities.
    2. Pre-home faff – once changed/warmed this faff is relished, in the name of extending the enjoyment of good company, fresh air and the afterglow. There are many methods of stretching this period of time, often centred around food, drink and, if conditions allow “maybe just popping down to swim spot X to have a look” on the way home.

    In which case, repeat as above… 


    8 thoughts on “10 faffs of outdoor swimming (not the only 10!) 

    1. Universally relevant to all groups of Swimmers large and small all over the world. Thank you for seeing this world of faff and loving it as much as I do

    2. And the special faff with all your stuff when you get home – cleaning sand/salt/grit faff, hanging up faff, revolving swimwear, hats gloves faff

    3. Hate any variety of faff! Swim in the hills when I feel like it, so only faff involved is taking clothes off and on again.

    4. Pingback: Swimming In Hope | Belinda Dixon

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