Smiling swimmer in green swimming cap waves at the camera. She has a pink float behind her, and swimmers in wetsuits are waiting on the jetty behind her ready to jump in.
Participants take part in the Swim Serpentine on Saturday 16th September 2023. Photo: Jed Leicester for London Marathon Events. Credit: Swim Serpentine

Swim Serpentine returned in style on Saturday 16th September when more than 4,000 people took to the water to enjoy the UK’s largest one-day open water swimming festival in London’s Hyde Park.

Swimmers filled the famous Serpentine lake from early morning to late afternoon, taking on a variety of distances ranging from a half-mile swim to six miles, in glorious September sunshine.

The event, which returned to the calendar after being postponed last year due to preparations for the State Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, promoted the Why We Swim campaign to encourage more people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to enjoy open water swimming.

Participants ranged in age from 12 to 86 and came from every corner of the globe. Why We Swim ambassadors included Ladi Ajayi, a contestant in the 2023 Race Across the World TV series, and model and presenter Shareefa J.

Ladi was one of the early finishers after completing the half-mile distance, which was the first event of the day.

He said: “My experience in the water was epic. The half mile ended very quickly so next year possibly, I’ll do the mile and bring a whole army of people.

“It’s good I can see people like me inside spaces like this. I want to see events like this to represent the people of London. I want to see more black and brown people and people with disabilities and everybody who represents London taking part.”

Shareefa was one of more than 1,500 people who completed their London Classics challenge by finishing the two-mile swim. The London Classics medal is awarded to participants who have conquered the London Marathon, RideLondon 100 bike ride and two miles at Swim Serpentine, at any time.

“I only learnt to swim a few years ago and had a fear of open water,” said Shareefa. “So, as someone who remembers clutching onto the side of a pool, completing this challenge has been really special. All my fears and worries were there, at some points, but I got through them!

“It’s nice to take on this challenge as a curvy woman and as a black woman. There are not many women who look like me taking part in these sports.

“I’m size 22. I have worked as a plus-size model for the past 10 years. So, people are surprised when I tell them I take on endurance sports. We need more representation from people of all backgrounds taking part in sport. Movement is amazing for your mental health; keeps you motivated and has a great impact in your life.”

Another participant overcoming adversity to complete the London Classics challenge was Giles Taylor, from London, who was paralysed from the neck down in 2019 when diving into a swimming pool, which he thought was deeper than it was.

Giles has made an incredible recovery and returned to mobility, completing the London Marathon in 2021, Ford RideLondon-Essex 100 earlier this year and the two-mile swim at Swim Serpentine today.

Giles said: “I feel lucky, and I’ll never take that for granted again. To lose the ability to move your arms and legs and then to get a second chance, you can’t look back after that.

“I have loved completing the London Classics challenge. The whole process has been great, from having a milestone to aim for, training hard and then getting that feeling of winning at the end. And you get that feeling three times over, which makes it even better.”

Alison Hamlett, Swim Serpentine Event Lead, said: “Swim Serpentine is an incredible and truly unique event, and it was a joy to see so many people experience that today, including so many with inspirational reasons to swim. From children and first-time open water swimmers taking part in the half-mile challenge to those celebrating completing the London Classics, this is an event where there is something for everyone, no matter age, ability or background. Swimming is for all and there can be few better places in the world to do it than on a glorious September day in London in the Serpentine.”