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AnyBODY can swim

The thing about swimming is anybody can do it. No matter how big or small or able bodied, anybody can get in the water

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I love open water swimming. I love the cold. I love the friends I have made. I love the sense of community. I love the tea and cake afterwards. I love the stillness of floating. I love the joy of jumping over waves. I love the calm of being submerged. I love the way I feel post swim. But most of all I love the total and utter rejection of the idea that only certain body types can swim.

The thing about swimming is anybody can do it. No matter how big or small or able bodied. Anybody can get in the water and experience the texture, movement, temperature on their skin. You may need a hoist, or a wheelchair. You may need a flotation device or some one to physically support you. You may not be able to propel yourself through the water but you may be able to float. You may not be able to see it, hear it, smell it or taste it, but you will be able to feel it. Feel the weightlessness, feel the cold, feel the energy of it. However you experience it, anybody can swim.

The Salty Seabirds really are all shapes and sizes. One of the many things I love about our flock is the contagious body confidence that has spread as we strip on the beach in full view of passing tourists, dog walkers and other swimmers. You don’t have time to worry about who can see your bits as you race against the tide and swim shakes to dress your numb stinging body. And contrary to what the name Seabirds suggests, we have some, albeit few, male sea swimmers in our numbers. They have seen ours and we have seen theirs.

Along with body confidence there is a huge amount of body positivity which again is infectious. You would assumed the two go hand in hand but they don’t. I have masses of body confidence, brought up with a practically naturist mother, there were naked bodies constantly on display in my youth. However, I had 2 caesarians which left me loathing a body that had failed at the 11th hour and has left me with a permanent physical reminder. I was unable to see it’s strength at carrying two babies. I had the confidence to be naked but I didn’t have a positive relationship with my body as I focused on the aesthetics and the final few minutes of my pregnancies.

This has changed since sharing swims with the Salty Seabirds. The people I share my swims with have had a profound impact on my relationship with my body. No longer do I measure my body’s strength and success by how many marathons I have run, or how fast but by the everyday things I rely on it to do. How it can get me to the beach to meet my friends. How it adapts to cold water and keeps me afloat. How all of my senses process the sights, sounds and smells of my wild swimming experiences. This is it’s strength and success. It didn’t and doesn’t let me down. People often ask me how I do it? How do I get in water that cold? My response is a kind of shrug. Hopefully not an arrogant or nonchalant one, but definitely a shrug. I have come to take my body’s ability to adapt to the cold sea temperature for granted – it is only when I take a step back and consider what an accomplishment that is, that I can see it’s strength and success. But it isn’t just my body that can do it. Anybody’s can!

Without intention we are pigeon-holed by others and ourselves as a ‘type’ of person from a very early age. Seabird Cath refers to herself as ‘not your typical sporty type’ because she didn’t fall into that category at school. However, she has forged a new relationship with her body since cold water swimming. She is able to see past her previous label and see herself as a resilient sea swimmer which her strong body enables her to be.

How we see ourselves and our bodies has a profound affect on our confidence in its abilities. We are quite literally bombarded with the opinions of others on our bodies from a very early age.  From people we know – think elderly relative squeezing our cheeks and calling us chubby, to people we don’t know – think glossy magazines telling us what every celebrity weighs and it is less than us. (This is a particularly pet hate. Unless you are stood in said celebrity’s bedroom looking at the number of the scales they are standing on, how on earth do you know how much they f@?king weigh?)

Two Salty Seabirds Christine and Claudine  have come together to create a workshop called ‘Think, Eat, Move’. The ‘Think’ part encourages participants to question how we see ourselves and challenge the media messages of what a body should look like. Once you’ve come to terms with the ‘Think’ you then move onto the ‘Eat’ and ‘Move’ parts. The focus  being no good or bad foods but rather fuel for our bodies and no arbitrary goal driven forms of exercise but movement being enjoyable and as a way to look after our bodies so it will look after us later in life.

We weren’t born feeling a certain way about our bodies or focusing on how our limbs, skin and hair look to ourselves and the outside world. Tanya Shadrick spent a season as the writer in residence at Pells Pool. She wrote in long hand on scrolls for her project ‘Wild Patience: Laps in Longhand”, a mile of written word. I had the pleasure of listening to Tanya read an extract one summers evening at Swim Talks hosted by Sea Lanes and it has stayed with me every since. Not only did the smooth velvety tones of her spoken word captivate me but so did her written words as she recalled a time when she was 9 years old, free from being labelled a type she loved herself which she only learnt to do again in her 40s. We all need to be that 9 year old girl again.

I, along with many Salty Seabirds have managed to find our 9 year old selves – she hides herself well and can be really hard to find but if you look for long enough she will appear. At every moon gazey swim, jump through a wave, dive off a jetty – she is right there smiling and screeching happy to be found again. She is able, she is confident, she is positive and she is inside every one of us. Come swim with us and you will find her because anybody can swim!

Author: Seabird Kath

P.S. Claudine and Christine are hosting a film viewing of Embrace Wednesday, April 24, 2019 at 7:30 PM – 10 PM @ The Walrus, Ship Street, Brighton. Embrace follows body image activist, Taryn Brumfitt’s crusade as she explores the global issue of body loathing, inspiring us to change the way we feel about ourselves and think about our bodies.

P.P.S. Read the Tania Shadrick extract – it is incredible – click on this link

 

 

 

A Tale of Two Swims

My first swim of the day was in the morning at Lifeguard Post Romeo 8 on Brighton Beach. This is just in front of the beautifully restored bandstand. It’s the spot the Seabirds swim from when we do early morning swims as it’s sort of midway between us all and you can avoid the extortionate parking fees at that time in the morning. There were due to be 3 of us on this particular day. It was a 10.30am meet, the tide was going out and it was like a mill pond, as it has been for much of the summer. Perfect conditions for going round the buoys.

The swim area buoys are the signal that it is summer in Brighton. They appear in-front of the 11 Lifeguard posts from Saltdean to Hove Lagoon in May and stay there until September. Unless there is a particularly strong storm where they can end up all over the place. They are placed 100m apart, going out and across 200m. With the growth in outdoor swimming and triathlon popularity they are used by locals to roughly measure the distance of their swims. A couple of the swim areas can resemble the M25 when clubs and groups meet there to clock up some kilometres.

On this particular day we had the swim area almost to ourselves as myself and Seabird Ruth headed out to the first buoy. Between the first and second buoy I was into the usual hypnotic rhythm when I began to hear something from under the water. It was different from the usual close to shore shingle song or the sound of the wake you create. It was a low level hum that just got louder and louder to the point of distraction. At that point I stopped swimming and looked up. I was a couple of metres from the furthest buoy and immediately saw the source of the noise. A speedboat going at a ridiculous speed practically in the swim area, no more than 5 metres from my swim capped head. As you can imagine the driver received the type of verbal assault that would make a salty sea dog blush. He proceeded further into Hove and dropped his anchor right in the middle of the quiet family beaches.

By this time seabird Ruth had caught up and was also using swear words we save for serious safety situations. And then another female swimmer. We proceeded to stop at the buoy to discuss, the proximity of losing my head, machismo, jet skis, idiots but most importantly swim safety. The swim community never ceases to amaze me. 3 women who have just met, sharing stories 200 metres out to sea. We concluded that even though we were within the swim area it would be sensible to wear a swim tow floatas well as our brightly coloured hats. Particularly as some seabird swims are parallel to the beach and leave the swim area although remain in close proximity to the shore.

It spooked me enough to head back in. I’d lost my swim mojo. We joined our third Seabird in the shallows for a frolic instead. We were met on the shoreline by a lovely lifeguard who advised us that she was keeping a careful eye on us and was also outraged at the idiot (insert other word here) driving the boat. She had reported it to the Seafront office and it was registered at the Marina. Unfortunately the Seafront boat hadn’t launched yet to intercept but they would be having a conversation later with the offender to hammer home that inappropriate speed, metres from the swim area was not only stupid and unnecessary but dangerous.

The good news was it was a double dip day and I was due to meet Ian, one of the beach lifeguards for a swim at Romeo 10 in front of the King Alfred swimming pool during his lunch break. Boy was it busy with swimmers. As we entered the water Ian proceeded to tell me that one of the Seafront Coordinators had seen a shark the day before. I laughed it off as a dog fish. We bumped into one of the Swim Trek directors finishing his lunchtime swim in the shallows as we were warming up. It was slack tide so we could swim either way around the buoys and chose to go west to east. At the first buoy Ian decided I needed to do swim drills. So we headed to the furthest buoy with me tapping my head with my hand, next buoy finger drags, next buoy arm pit tapping and so on until we’d completed a circuit.

From a fright to frollicking to swim drills all in one day.

I made the school girl error of enquiring more about the shark spotting. Turns out it was more than a bottom feeding dogfish. 5-6ft and definitely not a cetacean………

The cure for anything is salt water

Guest blog from Salty Seabird Rowena about her sea swimming experience with us.

Guest blog by Seabird Rowena

I’ve started throwing myself into the sea… in the UK… in spring… and it’s wonderful!

Bear with me…!

 

There is something about it, when the water is around 10 degrees, that brings you uncompromisingly into the here and now – both physically and mentally.

For the first few minutes, there is little you can do but be in the moment, focus on your breathing, finding it again from where it’s been whisked away from you; experience your flesh and nerves being first bombarded with cold and then numbed by it; feel the adrenalin flowing.

For some (me included) the first minute seems to be accompanied by surprisingly guttural sounds from deep within them. It’s a different way to use your voice, a different way to express yourself, one that has no filter to it.

You know you’re completely safe, that you’re going to become comfortable, but you feel on the edge of it, outside of your comfort zone physically and maybe mentally. It’s a good place to put yourself on a regular basis.

And as you acclimatise, a smile spreads across your face. Your system settles, but the exhilaration of it remains. You’re proud of yourself for jumping in. Your body is making decisions that you feel more acutely aware of than when you’re sedentary. Your capillaries have opened up and the blood is flowing. Your limbs are abandoned in favour of preserving your core, your essentials. The non-essentials are stripped away.

You feel whole. You feel solid. You are surrounded by water, as in your most formative state.

You clamber out: connected, grounded, a little bit brave.

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Wild swimming is having something of a renaissance in the UK, and around the world. The positive impacts on our mental and physical health are moving from anecdotal to researched and evidenced.

As well as being bloody fun, and perhaps a little terrifying, it’s about moving out of your comfort zone; trying new things; stripping away the non-essentials; being brought into the present moment; the euphoria and achievement afterwards; (and getting to feel a little bit smug that you did it).

Joining a group is a great way to get yourself out there! I’ve joined one here in Brighton called The Salty Seabirds . As well as being lovely, welcoming people, their conversations about ‘arctic flaps’ (I’ll leave you to figure that one out for yourself) drew me to them! 🙂

We’re not all fortunate enough to live by the sea (I count myself very lucky), but lakes and rivers are just as exciting. There is any number of websites to inform and inspire, including www.wildswimming.co.uk

If you’re not able to swim in, or get to, an outdoors space, swimming or floating in any capacity is great for your body and your mind. Local authority swimming pools are one of the many things we can be grateful we have in this country.

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I invite you to bare with me!

You can read more of Rowena’s blogs on her site

A pictures tells a thousand words

Thing you don’t know about this picture. One of the women only met the other three, 10 minutes earlier!

Things that can be said of this picture; This picture is clever. This picture invokes a reaction. This picture has a beautiful backdrop of Brighton beach. This picture is of 4 women. This picture was shared on Social Media.

Thing you don’t know about this picture. One of the women only met the other three, 10 minutes earlier!

This picture was liked on the Outdoor Swimming Society page 1.8K times. I think we can safely say these women are comfortable in their own skin. It was shared on Valentines Day – the day of love. We did it because we love swimming in the sea. But I think you will like it more when you know the story behind the shot.

The ‘L‘ is Catherine. Catherine is one of the Salty Seabird Founders. Once her husband was the only sea swimmer in the family. He is a member of Brighton Swimming Club, the oldest Swimming Club in the UK and has a graceful and hypnotic technique. Over the last few years Catherine’s confidence in the sea has grown to a level that matches her husband’s. She can be fast and fierce in the water and now they can swim together. No longer is she sidelined on the shore weighed down by the label of “non-sporty”. She now doesn’t give pictures of her in a swim suit, shared on social media, a second thought, Such has her relationship with her body changed since swimming in the sea, she takes pride in her strong body. She has a smile that makes any Salty Seabird swimmer, old or new, feel very welcome. She is definitely the L in Love.

Sam is the ‘V‘. Appropriate because she gives a good two finger salute to the pressures placed on women by society. She has a quiet strength and is up for pretty much anything. Or is that actually anything? I am not sure I have heard her turn down a challenge yet.  We met Sam at the end of August in the sea after a Swim Talk hosted Sea Lanes. She had no cossie so striped down to her bare skin and ran in. We’ve been swimming together ever since and she has become an integral part of the Salty Seabirds. Like Catherine, she is naturally inclusive, welcoming and warm. This shot was her idea.

Suzi is the letter ‘O’. None of us had ever met Suzi before this photo was taken. She turned up on the beach dragging a hard shell suitcase on wheels across the shingle in a neoprene wetsuit, hat, gloves and boots and enquired whether we were the Salty Seabirds. There were other birds there that day that had been swimming with us for months but Suzi readily volunteered to contort her body into the O without question.

The last letter ‘E’ is me. The one with the big pebble digging into my bum. It took a lot of direction to get that shape right. Not one for listening to direction from others naturally………………

What you don’t know about this photo is that the women in it are different but the same. What brings them to the beach differs, their reasons for swimming in the sea are the same. The strength of bond and camaraderie amongst the outdoor swimming society can only be described as love. The non judgemental acceptance of others is love. The quiet admiration of strength over adversity is love. The sharing of space in silence is love. The untamed guttural laughter is love. The protective togetherness is love. We are all looking for this love and here, amongst our fellow sea swimmers, we have found it.

We may have only met that day, that month, that year but we will always share the swim love. These are the words behind the picture.

Author: Seabird Kath

NB: We later went went on to create another picture spelling out a word in direct response to the Guardian article entitled ” Me and my vulva: 100 women reveal all”. A man named Paul Bullen replied to the news article on Twitter telling them “The correct word is vagina”. This caused a huge response from mainly women explaining that the vagina and vulva are two very different things, but instead of apologising or retracting his comment he began mansplaining to women about their own genitalia. You couldn’t make it up!

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Modern Day Martha Gunns

To Brighton came he,
Came George III’s son.
To be bathed in the sea,
By famed Martha Gunn.

Today, March 8th 2019, is International Women’s Day and what better way to celebrate than to look back at local hero Martha Gunn!

Martha Gunn was  Brighton Dipper. That does not refer to her dipping in the sea but rather operating the bathing machines that allowed Victorian women to enter the sea without being seen by their male counterparts.

The Dipper would be standing in the water, take her client in her arms as she descended from the Bathing Machine, and “dip” her vigorously into the sea water and pushing her through the wavesThe Salty Seabirds have a gentler approach to entering the sea although we have been known to push each other through the waves.

The similarities are many though. Many people flocked to the seaside and particularly Brighton in the 18th Century to swim in the sea to improve their physical and mental wellbeing. In 1750, Dr Richard Russell published a book which detailed the health benefits of drinking sea water and highly recommended sea-bathing. He encouraged his patients to swim in the sea to cure a whole plethora of ailments. This is true of today as academics research the benefits of cold water swimming and wild swimming is the fastest growing ‘sport’ in the UK. The Salty Seabirds formed just over 6 months ago and we are nearly at 500 members.

Life for Martha was not easy – standing in the sea all day sounds idyllic but in reality it took a strong constitution.  From a young age she started her own business as a Dipper taking visitors into the sea. A strong female entrepreneur. The Morning Herald referred to her as ‘The Venerable Priestess of the Bath”. She died at the ripe old age of 89 – clearly the salt water preserved her. Martha was laid to rest in the graveyard of Brighton’s oldest building, St Nicholas Church. She is still remembered locally and has had buses and pubs named after her. The Seabird Arms – now there’s an idea….!

Seabirds want to maintain the sea swimming legacy that made Brighton what it is today. Modern day Martha Gunns. So come swim with us………….

Author: Seabird Kath

 

The question everyone asks about Cold Water Swimming…..

People always ask me how cold the water is. I don’t know and don’t care….or do I?

Some people ask how to acclimatise to cold water swimming. Others ask how to warm up afterwards and beat the after drop. There are lots of technical questions about various pieces of kit, where it is safe to swim and how long you should stay in for. Cold water Swimming is of the moment and there are lots of people taking to the water to improve their mental and physical health which invariably begs the question how is it good for you. BUT the question that is ALWAYS asked without fail is “What’s the water temperature?” (Normally asked by people who don’t even swim in warmer months so I am always left a bit unsure as to why they have asked!)

And do you know what? I have no bloody idea and I don’t bloomin’ care. Or do I?

The Outdoor Swimming community is growing and so is it’s presence on Social Media. My feed is full of the most beautiful photographs of idyllic wild swims. But it is also full of  photos of the thermometers. The colder it gets the more I get! There are discussions on the best thermometer to use to measure the temperature of the water. My ‘lick my finger and hold it in the air’ thermometer does not measure the temperature in degrees Celsius or Fahrenheit. In the summer the sea can be as warm as a bath, my internal thermometer measures this as ‘barmy bathing’. In the winter it is cold enough to take your breath away, which shows on my internal thermometer as ‘bloody baltic’ . Anything below 5 degrees requires a profanity and is as ‘f@?$ing freezing’.  In the winter you would think our flock would migrate to warmer climes but in fact as we drop out of double digit sea temperatures our numbers increase as locals look to improve their wellbeing by partaking in cold water swimming.

It is hard to actually measure the temperature of the sea in Brighton.  In the summer, Brighton’s Beach Lifeguard Posts and year round, Brighton Sea Swimming Club regularly display the temperature of the sea on beach front boards. But it doesn’t always reflect how the water actually feels. The energy of a ground or wind swell that create waves and chop can make it feel a couple of degrees warmer.  Underground fresh water streams empty into the sea all along the seafront which causes the temperature to vary considerably. If there has been significant rainfall the river Wellesbourne increases the cold freshwater entering the sea at Poole Valley. Even in the summer months you can find yourself in a really cold spot.

This is my second winter of skin swimming. Last year felt much colder and seemed much harder. There are lots of reasons why this may be the case. i) I have a significantly larger layer of brown fat! ii) I have an ever encouraging wonderful flock of Seabirds to swim with making the whole experience easier, iii) I have spent a ton on money on kit for warming up afterwards, iv) I am much more in tune with my senses and know exactly when to get out pre swim shakes. OR is the sea just warmer than last year?

For the majority of the Salty Seabirds, this year marks their first year swimming in the sea year round. They have been told tales of the 2018 Beast from the East and have been longing to swim in sub 5 degree temperatures. We have enticed them with stories of how cold it gets in March only for false Spring to arrive and temperatures almost reached double digits again (according to my internal thermometer). Many have researched the effects of cold water swimming on mental and physical wellbeing and are chasing the elusive cold water cure. Adaptations like duck diving, wave jumping and full stroke with head in, are made to ensure that vagus nerve gets the shock it needs. Fortunately being with the flock can also make you smile on a bad day whatever the water temperature.

Although rivers and lakes are significantly colder than the sea and the further north you go, the colder it gets, I wonder if they have experienced warmer water this year. The Scilly Isles haven’t left double digits but I do not know if this is their norm. We have fresh water field trips in the pipeline – The Seabird Sussex Swimble Series – over the coming months to ensure our junkie habit is fed as the sea temperatures increase. We are looking for our skin to burn, our breath to be taken away, our fingers to fumble and for the post swim high to last all day! As long as this happens I do not care what a Seabirds watch, baby’s duck thermometer or aquarium thermometer say the temperature is. As long as I squeal as I get in, shake as I get out and share the swim love, I am a happy Seabird!

Author: Seabird Kath

Marine Life

Ten years ago Charlotte swam in the sea. Ten years later she has returned to her salty roots. So what has changed?

Guest Article by Salty Seabird Charlotte

Ten years ago I belonged to a different outdoor swimming group. It was a group (of mostly men) who prized distance and speed and endurance above all else. How many times you could swim round the Palace Pier. How rough the waves were. How much you had to battle the current to stay on course. I went through the winter with them (just). I didn’t enjoy it one bit. Once I had to climb up onto the barnacled struts of the Pier to find my breath again, overcome with cold, fatigue and my own overarching ambition. The last time I swam with them I actually had to be dragged out of the sea by another swimmer after I lost my goggles and a contact lens being tumbled in massive unswimmable waves. Nothing like shame to stop you suddenly in your tracks.

And now ten years later, post spinal surgery and at least two stone heavier I have found my love of the sea again thanks to the Salty Seabirds. The last ten years of my life have been about finding boundaries to protect my highly sensitive nervous system. I have realized that I do not like swimming out of my depth. I do not like big waves. I like calm seas. I like splashing about and feeling the sun on my face. I no longer feel the need to push myself to near death experiences in order to feel alive. I do however like connecting with the natural environment and I like the cold. Anything that makes me concentrate on my breath whether it be yoga or sub zero waters brings me into presence. The elusive present. And what a gift for an overactive brain that is. The cold sea brings me resolutely and immediately into my body. I have spent so much of my life not liking my body. My miraculous body that walks and eats and sleeps (most of the time) and dances and has given birth and is infinitely stronger than I think it is. Here again is a way in which the Salty Seabirds has been liberating for me. For our Seabirds come in all shapes and sizes, as diverse and beautiful as gulls and gannets and petrels and shags. And how glorious and released are their bodies in their natural habitat. I never thought I would rejoice in the thought that I am increasing my body’s brown fat (whatever that is). But I do. It is a kind and accepting group. It is community functioning at its best- everyone joined purposefully in a sole pursuit. Our tangential lives intersect for brief moments of escape.  The same faces. New faces. No questions asked. But always the same shared euphoria afterwards. For me I love the sweetness of the post swim walk up the beach. As the cold sinks through my heavy amphibian limbs, as analgesic as that first Friday night gin and tonic. I like sitting among the flotsam of our belongings. Feeling the earth beneath me, looking out to sea, thinking “I was in that”.

Note from Seabirds: We receive such wonderful positive feedback from the Salty Seabirds that affirms the need for a Swimming community group that is fluid and free from constitutions and committees. The Seabirds swim free and cannot be governed by rules and regulations. The Seabird Community are kind, compassionate and inclusive –  the sum of our parts is what makes it work. Charlotte’s experience is all too common but when the time was right we all found each other – our flock.