We Came, We Swam, We Conquered

A reflection on our Women, Wellbeing and Water course

For as long as we have been swimming together, Catherine and I have talked of making the sea accessible to others. In the sea, where all the best ideas are borne, we came up with Women, Wellbeing and Water. A course aimed at giving women the confidence to get in the sea for respite and relaxation and to escape the day to day. 

With the help of a National Lottery grant and funding from Paddle Round the Pier Charity Festival, we have been able to turn our talk into action. We have the beaches of Brighton and Hove on our doorstep but it is still under-utilised by so many. The idea was to help women that wouldn’t normally have the confidence to don a swimsuit or wetsuit access the benefits of sea swimming that we have both experienced over the last few years. We know how much sea swimming has helped us and people around us, to get through some difficult times.

We ran a pilot session in September 2018 after funding was secured, which allowed us to try out our ideas and gain valuable feedback from participants. Then in June this year we launched our first course. All swimmers on the course were referred to us by Brighton Housing Trust’s Threshold Women’s Services. The service supports those with issues including anxiety, depression, self-harm, low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, parenting issues, birth trauma and perinatal depression. The demand for the course was high and it was full within 24 hours.

We very much intended the course to be participant led, free from arbitrary goals. As part of the pre-course paperwork we asked them what they hoped to gain from the course. We knew our aims, what were theirs? Confidence was a reoccurring theme.

Greater confidence around other people and in the water particularly. More knowledge about being in the water and it’s benefits.”

“Confidence and resilience”

“Confidence and company”

“The confidence and momentum to swim regularly in the sea”

“Happiness, enjoyment, confidence”

And this aim really struck a chord as it echoed our reason for swimming in the sea!

“Positive mental and physical wellbeing and a return to who I truly am rather than the stressed version of my current self”

After our pilot session we were contacted by Dr Heather Massey from the University of Portsmouth. She and her colleagues are working on a research funding application to investigate the use of outdoor swimming for depression. As a result they need as much controlled quantitative data as possible relating to ‘new’ swimmers. If you ask an existing wild swimmer if they think it has a positive impact on their wellbeing they are liable to wax lyrical for what seems like forever. What Heather and her team need is data relating to swimmers that identified as having wellbeing issues and were ‘new’ to sea swimming. So our swimmers completed questionnaires before their first swim, after their first swim at at the end of the course to measure any changes in their levels of wellbeing, which we hope will provide more insight. Whilst we understand the need for this type of data collection in the world of academia, especially if you want to effect change, we were more drawn to the wonderful anecdotal comments………

How have you found outdoor swimming?

It was amazing experience, so freezing, joyful and hypnotising. Life giving and relaxing. Friendly atmosphere and felt so looked after.

Fantastic. It has been great learning about the sea, current, tides etc but the sense of a group experiencing the water together is lovely

Life affirming. It has lifted my mood and given  the confidence and encouragement to plan on making it a regular habit.

Will you swim in the outdoors again?

Definitely yes. It was life giving experience to feel nature,  waves and still feel safe as I was look after well in the water by Cathy. I loved sound and feel of the sea, which made me feel happy, relaxed and enthusiastic. I feel energetic, optimistic included and better to deal with problems and chronic pains in the future. Thank you for a great experience.

Yes. I’ve joined the seabirds and started swimming with others. Its life enhancing actually life changing. Thanks so much!

I will definitely swim outdoors again – in fact I have already ventured in a couple of times between lessons. I feel so grateful to have had the privilege of being amongst such kind and encouraging experienced swimmers and I would really like to start meeting up. I would also like to maybe learn how to do the crawl, and would like to hear of any lessons….

The reference to swimming with others, the sense of community and connection which provided the confidence to swim in the sea. This is at the heart of the Salty Seabird Sea Swimming group. So much so, that many of our group volunteered to join the new swimmers each week to swim, guide, assist, chat with them. And drink tea and eat cake with them at the end of every session of course. It is these swimmers that encouraged the new swimmers, happy to pass on their skills and experience, happy to welcome them into our flock. As the new swimmers gained confidence, the Salty Seabirds gained new members. That was our aim. And that was the new swimmers aim.

A huge thank you to Catherine, Mel, Alex, Claudine, Emma, Maria, Sam, Hannah and  Libby. And welcome to our new Salty Seabirds.

Right time to start planning the next course………..

7 days of Swims

Today I am 47! Today I have been around the sun 47 times. Today the moon has been around me 611 times. And I have spun around on this planet 17,155 times. So how to celebrate?

Monday – The weekly Salty Seabird Swim that we affectionately call Monday Mass, was massive. I am not sure how many of us there were swimming, but it was a lot. We shared tea and cake in time honoured tradition and were joined by honorary Salty Seabird Lindsey Cole, which was a real highlight for us wild swimmers. It takes place on my favourite Brighton Beach, which is in Hove actually, that we affectionately call D5 after the old Lifeguard post call sign.

Tuesday – My actual birthday and I am heading home. Contrary to popular belief, I was not raised by the sea, just spent every school holiday in West Sussex. So, along with a few Salties we are heading inland to Surrey to swim in a pond and a river with a pub lunch thrown in for good measure. These are my childhood swim spots – I hope they live up to my memories. Rumour has it lots of NO SWIMMING signs have been installed since the 1980s……………….

Wednesday – a very low key lunchtime beach picnic and dip is planned with friends I met on the school run many moons ago as my youngest is now 14. Our lives, jobs, families have changed considerably over the years but we still get together regularly for a good natter and once a year they join me for a swim in the sea.

Thursday – is a work day. Meeting in the morning with business partner Cath – which will inevitably start with a quick dip. Then in the evening it is the 3rd session in the Women Wellbeing and Water courses we are running that aim to improve confidence and reduce anxiety via sea swimming. It is Seabirds raison d’etre , it’s what we were set up to do. Sharing the joy and calm sea swimming can bring with others never gets old.

Friday – I am off to Bailiffscourt Spa with bestie Ros. We will be walking on the beach at Climping before making full use of the Spa facilities including a gorgeous outdoor pool and afternoon tea! She is not a Seabird by nature but she is by heart and our happy compromise is an outdoor pool.

Saturday – Saturday mornings are now spent in the sea with a considerable number of kids at Hove Surf Life Saving Club. Not necessarily the restorative weekend swim of choice for some, but worth it for their smiles. The Club is very much in it’s infancy and the kids that take part are all new to the sea and Surf Life Saving, Their enthusiasm lifts your heart and they even smile when swimming underwater! And the people I do it with are the salt of the earth.

Sunday – The last day and not even the slightest chance of it being a rest day. Instead I will be launching a home made raft from Brighton’s Beaches at part of Paddle Round the Pier’s Paddle Something Unusual. It is the only time of the year my friends Clare and Louise get in the water so it would be rude not to join them……..

So there you have it – my 7 days of birthday swims. Makes getting older a hell of a lot happier

Author: Seabird Kath

July Book Club Read

July’s Seabird Book Club Read. Floating

It’s been less that a month since we re-launched the Seabirds Virtual Book Club but it is already time for July’s book.

This month we move away from the science of Tristan Gooley to the memoir by Joe Minihane. “Floating: A Life Regained” sees the author follow in the footsteps of Roger Deakin and swims in the locations described in Waterlog. As a Seabird my favourite type of swimming is floating so the title immediately appealed. Joe is also based in Brighton so there was another tenuous link. He probably won’t remember, but I met him swimming in the sea once in front of the bandstand with his friend Seabird Laura. I went all a bit star struck and he just smiled.

As for the book – I know it will appeal to the seabird flock. It’s acutely honest and touches upon topics we regularly consider when swimming in the sea. Our joyful love of being outside and experiencing nature first hand. The warmth of the friendship we have found within our flock. A story of acceptance of his anxiety and how to live with it is also a common theme in our clan.

He writes; “In swimming I found the only thing that truly broke me out of my anxious cycle for longer than a few moments…I swam to fix myself.”

It’s on my list to read again, and again, and again. Joe is a Seabird. Enjoy Salties

xx

 

Come and join us in the sea, you know you want to!

Come and join the Salty Seabirds for a swim on Wednesday evenings!

I watched my partner sea swimming for years thinking he was a bit bonkers (while seeing clearly how good it was for him) before I took the plunge and discovered it was for me too. You can see how it benefits the smiley swimmers in the pictures but you still feel hesitant about actually taking the plunge…

As part of Mental Health Awareness week this week the Salty Seabirds have come together to put together various events – one is our new Wednesday Evening Swim – the first one very much aimed at encouraging newbie swimmers to come and try a dip with us.

We are a friendly, inclusive bunch, open to ALL who want to swim/splash/dip/bathe with us. Visible female bias in the shared photos and chat we know but men very welcome, honest!

So, to practicalities. Now it is a bit warmer, what do we actually need to get in the water apart from our swimsuit (not expecting anyone to skinny dip for their first swim!).  The real answer is nothing. Warm layers for afterwards are essential so that you don’t suffer from the cold you will inevitably (it’s the good bit, I promise!) feel. There are also a few other bits of kit that make it much more do-able – you can do it without them as some choose to but it can be the difference between putting you off and you getting in and enjoying yourself so I have tried to pare it down to the basics:

  1. Swim hat; to limit the ice-cream head effect, support pain free handstands and keep hair (relatively) dry to protect against wind chill on wet hair. Having said that some of us insist on dunking the head before getting out for the full cold rush/re-boot effect.
  2. Large towel or changing robe; as we change on the beach these can protect against wind chill and flashing your arse to passers by. We have had a few dressing gowns recently which do the trick nicely.
  3. Warm layers for afterwards; woolly hat, thick sweater etc. Easy to put on dampish skin.
  4. Neoprene socks/boots and gloves. Many of us have ditched the gloves by now but not the boots. Decathlon have them or you can find them online (Some folk are fine without them it has to be said.
  5. Hot drink: not totally essential but very helpful; (using a cup as a hand warmer great tip)

Any other tips please feel free to comment below. If you want to try before you buy gear message us in the event page and we can see about lendings…people may have spares hanging around…

For more tips and information about beating the cold and keeping warm post-swim see our older blogs here and here.

I will bring the biscuits – see you next Wednesday!

Author: Seabird Cath

Salted Wellbeing – A seabird approach to Mental Health Awareness Week

A week of salted wellbeing!

When we started Seabirds and then the wild swim group Salty Seabirds, we never imaged the kind of energy and enthusiasm it would create. But it has. Who knew that a bunch of sea swimmers could create such contagious sense of belonging and infectious joy. But they have. This is apparent in their approach to Mental Health Awareness  (MHA)Week 13-19 May.

A few days ago, Seabird Catherine Kelly, was asked to do some media for Marine CoLab for MHA week in her own work/research capacity.  This got her wondering if we Seabirds might try to do something around watery wellbeing.  It’s what we are all about after all. So she asked the question in the wild swim group. The response was over whelming. This wonder became a call to arms for many and offers, ideas and suggestions flowed.

Our approach to wellbeing is simple. We meet, we swim, we chat, we drink tea, we eat cake, we breathe. We wanted our approach to MHA to be the same. Being part of this group has had a profound effect on many of it’s members and MHA week is an opportunity for us to invite those that have watched from the sidelines to join in, meet us, swim with us. It is an opportunity to show others how much can be gained from belonging, relaxing, playing in it’s simplest form.

So we plan to provide a week of swims, conversations, and experiences. Everything will be centred around the beach and seafront to align with our blue health ethos. We have sunrise fitness classes and early bird swims. We have swim story telling and yoga. We have meditation and a mindful body image session. We have new member swims and a talk on the tides. We have a Blue Moon swim and a beach clean. We have a kids swim and a kids wild beach school. We have a mindful swim and Parkrun takeover. There will be writing and guided swims. All provided by the Salty Seabirds – a group who didn’t know each other 8 months ago – but have pulled together a wonderful week in a matter of days.

They will take place in the mornings, evenings, weekends, after school and during school hours. They are all outdoors and if it rains then we will just get wet! They are free to participate but we ask for a small donation if you are able to Mind mental health charity. We are fortunate enough to have each other and our swims to provide us with respite, many do not, so we are keen to support charities that can be the only safety net for some.

So thank you to Catherine for wondering. Thank you to all the Seabirds that answered Catherine’s ‘wonder’. Thank you to all the Seabirds who are giving up their time and sharing their skills and experiences. Thank you to the Seabirds for your ideas and encouragement.  Thank you to all the Seabird swimmers that make everyone feel welcome and part of something special. We get compliments all of the time for starting the Salty Seabirds. We are just a sum of the parts that provided a conduit for communicating swim times and meets. The Seabirds that swim with each other and support one another made the Salty Seabirds what it is.  We planted the seed, the Seabirds allowed the group to grow in any direction that it wanted and it thrived without being pruned by the constraints of rules or regulations. I am a Seabird, you are a Seabird, we are Seabirds – swimming wild and free – but coming together as a flock in formation to create this wonderful week of wellbeing. A week of salted wellbeing!

Stay Salty xx

 

The change of life or life changing?

Have the sea swim your dry vagina deserves!

The menopause usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age, when a woman’s oestrogen levels lower. And it has some ‘oh so lovely’ side affects to accompany it. Night sweats, hot flushes, low mood or anxiety and memory problems. A woman’s sex life may also be affected, with decreased sex drive, vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex. Lucky us! But there is also something quite positive about being an old bird.

When we started Seabirds Ltd and brainstorming names for our Community Interest Company,  Director Catherine came up with the perfect one. Seabirds. And there is a story behind the name. When her two eldest daughters we preschool age she moved back to the UK and settled in Hove after many years living abroad. She would walk regularly along the prom with initially two and then three small children in tow or in a buggy. She often saw women who were older than her swimming in the sea at all times of the year displaying so much confidence and strength. She admired those old birds from afar and named them Seabirds. A few months into her sea swimming journey a decade later she realised she had become one of these Seabirds that she admired all those years ago. When a few months later we started a wild swim group to encourage more people to get in the sea we added salt and the Salty Seabirds were formed.

Preserved in salt the seabird flock has grown rapidly. Not sure whether this is due to the group name, the times we swim or because of the community aspect but the majority of our flock are female. And not just female, but females of a certain age. Most of us fall into the 45-55 age group and regularly forget our knickers.

The menopause is rarely talked about, even among groups of women that are living through it. There is a mass exodus from the workplace when women reach 30-40 and begin families, but there is also a mass exodus at 45-55 when women begin their journey through the menopause. As women are having families later in life, the gap between post natal and peri-menopause is very small. Unable to concentrate, distracted by hot flushes, the inability to retain even the simplest pieces of information make it, for some, impossible to carry on.  They are unable to work in the environment or pace that they were once proficient at.

Some women realise early on that these symptoms are hormonal and that they are not losing their marbles, Some take longer. Some never make the connection. Whatever your awareness is, the impact of the physical and cognitive changes is low mood, low confidence and increased anxiety.  As if the sweats and memory loss weren’t enough to deal with! The solution for many is Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) but GPs can be slow to prescribe as the weaning off process is difficult to manage and many women have been slapping on patches for decades with no monitoring which isn’t ideal. For some of the Salty Seabirds a plunge in the cold sea has been a great way to deal with the symptoms and I’m not just talking about dowsing the flames of the hot flushes!

But there are positive changes that occur during this time. As a response to feeling inadequate in the workplace many women leave and find alternative employment.  It may be their long talked about dream job or have better working hours and conditions.  Many start their own businesses and as entrepreneurs they can dictate their own working environment.

As a Salty Seabird I have witnesses the positive changes in our swim group. Many of the women now work for themselves or have changed careers in their 40s and 50s. Many have arrived for their first swim consumed with anxiety about their swimming ability and what lies beneath. After weeks of bathing with us they have become confident water warriors. They have exercised their brain keeping it young by learning new skills like how to read tragic seaweed forecasts and how to exit the sea safely. They have learnt by experience that their fears can be overcome. This neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to form new neural pathways and synaptic connections in response to learning, having new experiences or healing from an injury, keeps us young! They have become more body confident. Confident in it’s strength and capability in the water. One Salty Seabird has recently bought her first bikini after realising half of Brighton have seen her in the all together getting changed on the beach and if not now, when? Seabird Cath summarises the positive impact of getting older very succinctly. “We give less of a fuck”.

Whatever way it works, the water seems to keep the mental menopause monkeys that like to invade our brain with negative thoughts, at bay. So whilst the menopause is the ‘change of life’ it can also be ‘life changing’ in many positive ways. Swimming in the sea is preserving us with salt. We are the Seabirds.

As a closing note I have to share this amazing strap line with you that the visiting Southsea Mermaids shared with us when discussing the joys of the menopause. “Have the sea swim your dry vagina deserves!”

Author: Seabird Kath

p.s. Has anyone else forgotten they are boiling their moon cup on the stove and let it boil dry until the damn thing melted leaving the smell of burning rubber in the house? At least we know the periods will stop soon – always seeing the positive!

 

 

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………