The sea is a force amongst the Salty Seabirds that brings us together. We share a love of cold water swimming and as such our shared experiences of joy, respite and faffing is what notably makes us the same. But we all get in the sea differently.
We noticed this when we swam to the east of the Palace Pier to have a morning of celebration in the Beach Box Sauna and cold sea as we introduced some new Seabirds to our swimming pod.
Patrick McLennan, is the the co-director of a new documentary called The Ponds, about Hampstead Heath Ponds. In a recent article written for the Guardian by Tim Lewis McLennan explains “Outdoor swimmers tend to divide into “divers” and “creepers”, with the latter group easing themselves into the water more gradually. There are also “tea-baggers”: people who jump in and get straight out.”
When the Salty Seabirds visited the Ladies Pond last year we were definitely divers as the jetty and steps only allowed for that form of entry. How we get in the sea on Brighton’s beaches, all depends on the conditions and state of the tide. If the tide is high you have no choice but to submerge yourself at speed as after three steps and you are out of your depth on our steep shingle. However, the length of time you faff, get changed or observe your swim area can vary considerably. At low tide, particularly a spring tide, you maybe walking for what feels like miles across sand to get anywhere near swimming depth taking gradual acclimatisation to the extreme!
Outdoor Swimming Coach, Rowan Clarke has the funniest video parody on her Instagram account that charts the 10 ways people get in. When I watched it I associated each type of entering the water with Salty Seabirds. The types are;
- Just Get On With It – this is definitely me
- Faff– this is a favourite amongst the Salty Seabird flock – our super power is forgetfulness and changing bags are emptied and repacked quite a few times on the beach before we realise the swimming hat we are looking for is on our head
- Inch by Inch – many a fledgling Seabird starts off this way, but after a few dips and possibly an encounter with Brighton’s infamous shore dump, they soon join the rest of the formation and get in as quickly as they can.
- Swear – yep lots of it. In fact the swearing normally starts with the faffing and just continues into the water. Swearing helps you to regulate your breathing – FACT
- Huff and Puff – I love chatting to the Seabirds that huff and puff as they get in as they are completely unable to talk back and I get the opportunity to waffle on uninterrupted.
- Scream – Yep again and lots of it. It is a Seabirds primal call to nature
- Splash and Slap – I am yet to spot a Seabird doing this but the more serious swimmers that migrate for the winter and return in the summer have been known to partake in this activity. On a serious note, it is a good way to acclimatise before a distance swim.
- Heads Up – So last year! Once we’d listened to Dr Mark Harper’s informative talk on the Health Benefits of Cold water Swimming hosted by iSWIM we have all been obsessed with stimulating our vagus nerve and stick our heads in as much as the ice cream brain will allow.
- Recklessly – definitely a ‘don’t do this at home kids’. Unfortunately as a tourist city by the sea the Seabirds often witness people making poor choices. We don’t and move to safe swim spots when it’s stormy or just wave bathe on the shingle shoreline known locally as “pilcharding”.
- Just Don’t – this applies to lots of our family members so we have created a new swimming family that ‘Just Do’
Whatever the time of year, outdoor water temperatures in the UK are cold. Even if you are wearing a wet-suit you will be susceptible to ‘Cold Water Shock’. Your breathing speeds up along with your heart rate and blood pressure – which in itself can lead to panic and gasping. The secret to over coming the cold water shock is to swim often and resist the urge to panic. The Outdoor Swimming Society has tips for cold water immersion written by the late great Lynne Roper of Wild Woman Swimming fame. She writes ‘ Much of the acclimatisation process is mental – knowing the moment of immersion will feel cold, and embracing it anyway.’ The RNLI ‘Float to Live’ campaign is aimed at people falling into the sea in British and Irish waters where the average temperature is 12-15 degrees. Low enough to cause cold water shock. The campaign promotes the lifesaving technique of fighting your instinct to swim until the cold water shock passes.
I have a unique style of entering the water. I am what Patrick McLennon would refer to as a ‘diver’ and Rowan Clarke a ‘just get on with it’. But the first thing I do, after getting in quickly, is to roll onto my back and just float. It’s not a conscious considered decision based on my lifesaving training or an attempt to be in the moment with nature. It’s just something I do without thinking. What it does do is allow me to relax and my breathing has time to regulate without plunging my head through waves or respond to the physical activity of purposeful swim strokes. The urge to start swimming soon arrives as I realise I need to move to keep warm.
However you get in – do it safely and JUST KEEP SWIMMING…….and eat cake afterwards. Copious amounts of cake.
Scribe: Seabird Kath
Footnote: An Our Screen Viewing of The Ponds is scheduled in Brighton on Thursday 28th February at 20:30 but has SOLD OUT!