Tell us a bit about you.
I’m Kath, one of the founders of Seabirds Ltd Community Interest Company and the Salty Seabirds sea swimming community group. I’m in my late 40s and I’m a mother to two teenagers, a dog owner, a life partner, an over-thinker, a wild woman and a sea swimmer. I’ve always swum. My Godmother was a swimming teacher who taught me to swim and I spent every school holiday with my family in West Sussex at the seaside. I started swimming in the sea aged 2 or 3 (there are pictures of me sat in rock pools looking very happy) and I haven’t stopped since. Even when I was working full time in a busy corporate job I managed to find time to swim in the sea.
When I had children, I wanted them both to learn to swim too. My daughter really took to it and when she was 10 I found a Surf Lifesaving Club in Brighton for her to join. Around the same time I had a breakdown, I left my corporate job and begun volunteering at the Club too. It kept me going and got me out of the house. I’ve volunteered with Surf Life Saving for 8 years now and am a Trainer Assessor at the Hove Club.
I met Cath – with a C, the other founder – through our children and we started swimming in the sea together. We both had personal things we were working through and then, one day, we had a lightbulb moment – we realised how much better swimming in the sea made us feel and we wanted to spread the word and get other people involved. And so we founded Seabirds Ltd – a not for profit company that raises funds for causes close to our hearts and the Salty Seabirds – a community of people in Brighton and Hove who swim together regularly.
What is the earliest memory you have of swimming?
I was raised in Farnham in Surrey and had swimming lessons with Farnham Swimming Club (because my God Mother was a swimming teacher not because I was good at it). In the winter it was in the local catholic school pool and in the summer it was in the town’s outdoor pool. I was a very thin child and the outdoor pool was a beautiful, but unheated lido! All I remember is being so cold I turned blue every week and the wonderful turnstile you went through to leave! Interesting that I would now welcome the cold…….. too late as the pool will filled in in the 80’s a blocks of flats where built o the site ..sigh.
What is the earliest memory you have of swimming in the sea?
So every school holiday, winter or summer, my family would stay in a converted railway carriage on the shingle shores of Selsey in West Sussex. At low tide there was a shallow lagoon that was sandy and safe and I would sit and splash in there from a very early age, maybe 2 or 3. As an awkward gangly teen I would spend hours perfecting my dives of the wooden breakwaters at East Beach at high tide. Away from prying eyes I didn’t need to conform to nonchalant sulky teen behaviour, I could just be me, with no fear of reprimand from my cool mates. Very freeing when you are consumed by teenage angst.
Fascinating fact – the Desert Island Discs theme ‘Sleepy Lagoon’ was composed in Selsey and based on the lagoon I swam in.
Where is your favourite place to swim in Brighton and Hove and why?
It’s D5 – the beach just in front of Hove Lawns Café. Historically because my favourite council lifeguard used to exclusively work on this post and I’d share a cuppa with him and stash my clothes behind his windbreak. But now because I know it’s geography so well, it’s so familiar, it feels safe and secure like home. It can get super busy in the summer with uber Hove mums and families and then I migrate to other spots but for most of the year this is my swim spot. I’m very territorial about it and have left my wee scent there a lot!
Why do you swim in the sea?
For all sorts of reasons that are all about my wellbeing. I have suffered with depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember and I have enjoyed being at the beach or in the sea, again, for as long as I can remember. Swimming in the sea simply makes me feel better. I could wax lyrical long and hard about the how’s and why but basically when you are a malcontent person you spend a disproportionate amount of time under a thick, heavy dark cloud yet are expected to act as if it is a day filled with sunshine. It’s exhausting. For a few moments, most days, submerged in the sea I feel joy. Pure, innocent, childish joy. And rested. No amount of medication, therapy or counselling has ever achieved that!
What do you like most about swimming (insert chatting and eating cake) with the Salty Seabird Community?
This is such a weird one for me. I am so uncomfortable around people. I am deaf on one side so have to lip read which makes me nervous with new people or anyone who speaks English as a second language. I am awkward around anyone with mental health issues, particularly if they are manic or unable to mask it, as it’s like holding up a mirror. I am more at ease in the company of men, probably because I am a massive flirt. Yet somehow I love love love swimming with a bunch of mainly women, that I haven’t known very long, some have migrated to Sussex from all over the world, many of whom have mental health issues and are swimming to aid their emotional wellbeing. In theory this should be my absolute worst nightmare. But it isn’t. I have never met a more inclusive, kind, considerate community with whom I share a deep connection. So what I love most about swimming with the Salty Seabirds is how comfortable I am in their company.
How often do you swim in the sea?
Again a big misconception is that I swim in the sea every day. But it is around 3 times a week – very rarely at weekends and mostly in the mornings. In the summer I swim much less because the damn fair-weather swimmers invade my space and the beaches are super busy, even at dawn!
Where and when was your favourite swim?
I’m as territorial about this swim spot as I am D5 but there is a place that we go back to every year when we visit the South West that holds such intense happy memories. My heart aches for it as I write this. Watching your children come alive with excitement, amplified chatter and bright eyes, as we make our way across the rocks. It’s hard to find and even harder to get to, but by the power of the internet and middle class gentrification, it is getting busier each year. But there is still a quiet spot in the rocky cove to the west on a disused fishing slipway that no one sits on. We hide painted pebbles in the gaps to find the following year. You can jump off the rocks and cliffs even at low tide and the water is aqua and crystal clear. Even on the roughest day it is swimmable. We bring wet-suits, snorkels and flippers so look like we are staying for a week as we walk down the hidden path to the cove. We scoff pasties from the local bakery that only opens for a couple of hours every morning. There are grooves in the rocks from old cart wheels that carried smuggled brandy and huge holes where winches were once housed. Every swim there, every year, is my favourite swim.
What’s been the biggest barrier you’ve had to overcome to regularly swim in the sea?
Fear – which I think will surprise my salty flock as they see me as a fearless jelly fish catcher that it happiest the far side of the pier. But actually I’ve had a few near misses and been involved in a failed rescue attempt and I can get regularly spooked in the sea. I have swum in the sea, year round for over a decade now but much of that was encased in a wet-suit. I would take bigger risks knowing the wet-suit would help me float, keep me warm and more importantly protect by body when it got slammed on the shingle as I mis-timed by exit. I remember once having to wait 20 minutes trying to swim in but then having to duck dive back out and under wave upon wave upon wave. I was finally able to exit a few hundred metres further up the beach. I wore a wet-suit to one of the starling swims so I could float under their mumurations for longer. It was low tide but big seas causing a strong rip by the pier. I got caught in it quite early on but managed to get out. I then stupidly got caught in it again as I was floating and not paying any attention to where the current was taking me. I then did all the wrong things and tried to swim out of it against it before coming to my senses. Again I was spat out further up the beach, exhausted. But like riding a bike or a horse I make sure I go back in. And I am more risk averse when swimming in skins.
My biggest fear is my beloved buoys. Happy to swim out and round them – but I give them a wide berth because their anchor chains totally spook me!
Nice to meet you!
Next week it is time to meet Co-Founder Cath