Swimm © Thermostar
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Three start-ups have been nominated for the Dutch Sports Innovation Award. The award ceremony will take place on October the 7th during the Dutch Sport Innovation Congress. Swimm is one of the nominees.

Swimming as if you are swimming in open water, but then at the same time a bit like running on a treadmill. This is made possible with Swimm, a ‘counter-current installation’ that creates a fifty centimeter wide and fifty centimeter deep smooth stream of water in any swimming pool – without any bubbles. It is comparable to swimming in open water, says entrepreneur Mark Smits, who with twenty years of experience in the retail and development of swimming pools is always on the lookout for innovation. He wants to use Swimm to get everyone swimming.

How does it work?

In order for swimming to feel like swimming in open water, a lot of water is needed to provide a human body with buoyancy and resistance, Smits explains. A propeller makes propulsion possible, like how a boat moves through the water. This is not new, there are also some swimming spas that have it. What makes it different, is the power of the Swimm and the way that energy flows through the water. A system of grids and guides ensure that the water generates a smooth stream without turbulence. At the maximum setting, approximately 1.2 million liters of water per hour is pumped around at the same speed as the Olympic level of long distance swimming.

“The Swimm is a counter-current installation that can be purchased in two versions. A wall-mounted model that can be built into any pool, and a compact model: the intelligent pool.”

The stream can be controlled from inside the pool. But you can also program your own training in advance. With specially developed software, you can determine how hard the current flows. A swimmer can create their own program. They will be able to access this program via their account on any Swimm, wherever it is located.

At the moment Smits is still developing and selling the pools primarily to private individuals. He does this through his company Thermostar Swimming Pools. The idea was born eight years ago – that of making smaller swimming pools as a way to broaden the swimming pool market, Smits explains. He discovered that people mainly wanted a current in these types of smaller pools. “One of the conditions I had at the start was that I really wanted to develop something different from existing jet streams, for example. These are nothing more than a jet of water that you can swim against. That doesn’t even work properly. It’s more like a children’s toy.”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdsR8TsCtsM]

Smits cites hotels and gyms as other potential customers. And the healthcare sector. He is in talks with health insurers and healthcare organizations active in the care for the elderly and the disabled. “In disability care, people are not interested in strong currents. Parents with multiple disabilities are able to enjoy being in water with a variant that provides gently flowing water across the breadth of the water. This has a relaxing effect. The advantage of the Swimm is that it does not have to be transferred to a large swimming pool. A taxi ride can be quite stressful for someone like that, if for no other reason than that the taxi might be late.” Smits hopes to run a new pilot in healthcare next year. The discussions about this are promising, but the decision-making process takes time, Smits explains.

New developments

“In the north of the country we are conducting a test which involves installing smart cameras in the pool walls. They see where the swimmer is in the pool. The water flow then automatically adjusts to the swimmer’s speed. You actually create the feeling of being able to swim freely this way. If you go faster, the water gets faster. If you swim slower, it will also automatically turn more gentle. We are doing this together with a company that develops medical cameras.”

“We’ve also developed a system that allows us to calibrate every Swimm that we’ve made so far. That way, I’m sure they will all provide exactly the same water current at a set speed. There is resistance inside every pool which influences current, among other things.” This calibration is important for the next step. Smits wants to set up a social media platform. “Where people can share their personal races and training sessions with each other. You can then upload and share your races so that the other will be able to swim a race against you. For example, if the other person swims faster, a green LED will light up in their pool. If they slow down, it turns red.”

Smits thinks in small steps. “That platform isn’t there yet. But we can calibrate our pools and we are working on those cameras. That way we can take a new step every three or four months.”

Customers’ reactions

Smits is most proud of the response from customers. “That gives us so much energy. That’s the best thing out there. Everyone who gets out of a Swimm, no matter how skeptical they might have been beforehand about that ”little pool,” has a huge smile on their face and says: “This is a real workout, it’s so cool’.”

The Dordrecht amateur swimmer Kevin de Koning always had the dream of having his own swimming pool. Six months ago he met Smits. After Smits’ enthusiastic story about the Swimm, De Koning went for a trial swim. “A whole new world opened up for me. It’s not just swimming lengths – it’s really exercising. It has so much more power than a swimming pool with a jet stream.”

A month ago, the Swimm was installed at De Koning’s place. “My whole rhythm has changed. I notice that on a day like today I am already thinking this morning: I’m coming home tonight and then I’m going to jump into the pool for twenty minutes and go for it. Maybe it’s because I only just got it and it’s the adrenaline kicking in. But I have noticed that it does a lot for me. Another advantage is that you can do interval training with it.”

Every day De Koning swims outdoors in his Swimm. Except when there’s a storm like yesterday, he says. “And I still doubt whether I will leave it on during the frost season from November to January. The heat pump is fairly energy efficient until it reaches a temperature around freezing point.”

De Koning is amazed by the reactions, especially from those around him. “People of all ages, I’m 35 myself. Friends think it’s absolutely fantastic. And I notice that elderly people in my area are also very interested. They like to go swimming like this. I think it’s a huge opportunity for the future. Not only for the elderly but also for young people. If you can also compete with others, for instance. That way you can get a certain pleasure out of swimming, plus it’s basically just good for your physical health.”

Smits himself is perhaps one of the most fanatical users, he confesses. “I swim three to four times a week. It’s great when I notice that I can go up a notch again.”

The retail price of the Swimm starts at 29,000 euros. It is currently still 34,000 euros, but due to changes in the purchasing process, a reduction in the price is possible, says Smits. The most luxurious version is 55,000 euros.