A Cold Water Love Affair

Guest Article by Salty Seabird Kim Moore

I hate the cold with a passion. Ask anyone who knows me, friends, family and they will all agree to this. I’m always the one to take extra coats, hats and scarves on a walk, to pack slippers and blankets with me on weekends away and to cuddle up with a hot water bottle as soon as the summer slips away. So why is it that I love cold water swimming so much? Honestly, it’s a bit of a head tickler even for me, but I’ll try to explain.

There are times in all our lives when too much unhappiness can tip the balance of our mental health. That was me a year ago. Doses of medication, therapy and meditation followed and the recommendation to exercise more. Now I’ve always been a swimmer and have lost track of the numbers of pools I’ve swum in over the years, but the charms of the busy, chlorinated echo chambers were starting to wane.

Reviewing my options, I discovered Pells in Lewes, one of the oldest public outdoor swimming pools in the country. The adults only early morning session first attracted my attention, that and the natural setting, it’s bordered by pines and a fishing waterway. You can hear the ducks as you swim and watch birds coast on the clouds as they bluster by. The cold water was a problem though, I’m not going to lie. Just dripping my toes made me cry and I’d spend many a session, cowering on poolside being laughed at by hardy lifeguards who’d been cold water swimming for years. But over time and with some steadfast encouragement, I grew to welcome the cold, not to love it, but to accept it. I was still in a pool though and pounding up and down in the lanes, a banal exercise that allowed me to wallow in my thoughts, not escape them, and so with winter beckoning, I went to the sea.

I’ve lived in Brighton for over 20 years and have always swum in the sea in summer when the sun makes its annual appearance. To swim in it year round, in all weather was quite another thing. Like most people, the sea is what brought me to Brighton. I’d spent my whole life desperate to live within walking distance of its windy shore. But fast forward a family, my own business and a move to the city outskirts and the sea was suddenly taking a back seat.

My illness was to be the catalyst to change that, but I’d lost confidence in sea swimming and was uncomfortable being too far off the beach, so I called a sea-loving friend and laughing, we set out to reacquaint me with the many pleasures of our briny shore. There’s no dallying with my friend Lara, she ran to the waves and threw herself headfirst into the maw. I, ever a procrastinator danced a while in the surf, gasping at the cold that was numbing my ankles, before joining her in the deep. As we swam and chatted we became accustomed to the chilly water and the sun came out to warm our smiling faces. I’d forgotten the sheer joy of being moved by the sea’s waves, of being held and carried along by it is both humbling and exhilarating. There’s a sense of letting go in the sea, of acknowledging Mother Nature’s greater power, it is extremely liberating and especially so for a mind that’s knotted with anxiety and depression. The combination of the chilly water and the energy of the sea focuses your attention on the here and now. There’s no room for agonising, deliberations or ruminating, the sea demands all of your attention and it’s a relief. And there are multiple medical benefits that have been shown to be gained from cold water sea swimming.

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Mindfulness – a popular therapy for depression – is not a modern enigma, most ancient cultures teach it in one way or another and sea swimming is a master class in it. There is only the present, defined by the startling sting of the cold water on your body, the wind whipping the sea spray into your face, the roar of the waves as they meet the shore and the ecstatic scream of the gulls as they skim the sky. You must pay attention to the sea at all times, to reach safety past the breakers, to swim with the current and the swell and then, to time your exit without being dumped on by a sudden wave.

Anyway, I was hooked. Lara and I laughed and giggled like school girls once back on the beach, where sticky with seaweed, we hastily dressed and gulped back cups of scalding tea. Since then, even with the temperatures diving, I’m a double dipper, that is I try to sea swim at least twice a week. I get tetchy if I can’t, physically yearning for the release that the sea gives me. My family tells me I’m a nicer person when I’ve been swimming and I think I am. How could I not be when I’ve been washed clean by the sea, both mentally and physically?

For more info and inspiration on sea swimming take a look at Seabirds of Brighton!

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Different Folks, Different Strokes. And Different Dips.

Who do you swim with? Where do you swim? What times do you swim? With anyone, anywhere, anytime.

The thing that underpins the Salty Seabird Swimming Community is our shared belief that swimming in the sea, on a regular basis, can provide respite from modern day living. An opportunity to re-set, re-calibrate and relax. But how we chose to swim, who with and where, differs a lot!

Depending on where my head is at I will chose whether to join ‘big’ swims or not. I am a regular at the Monday Morning Mass and think this a great way to start the week. Others meet up in two and threes to swim preferring to swim in smaller groups. On New Years Day I made my way to D5 beach for the Salty Seabird swim to find 50 swimmers and up to 100 more family, friends, kids and dogs. That was without counting the spectators on the prom. A little overwhelmed at first, I soon found some Seabirds I regularly swim with, safety and sanctuary restored, and jumped in the sea. In the cold winter months we would not recommend swimming alone for safety reasons but in the summer months the solitude of a solo swim can be the choice for some. Although the community of sea swimming has huge appeal there are days when you just need to be by yourself. How you feel each day and who you want to swim with differs.

The wonderful thing about meeting people through sea swimming is you aren’t defined by what you do for a living. In fact, it is not a question I have ever been asked by anyone I have met on the beach or in the sea. But I know some have jobs by the times that they swim. Some go as early as possible, even before dawn and others are at sunset. This is more obvious during the winter months when the daylight hours are limited. Some go at random times like 10.45am or 12.15pm. Not sure of the rational of the quarter past and quarter to the hour. Although the time differs, there are always others to share your sea swim with. In the summer months time is important to avoid the many tourists that flock to the beach. In the winter low tides are selected when winter storms churn up the sea.

The frequency that people go also differs. I wouldn’t suggest that it is more than once a day in the winter months but we currently have a Seabird doing a Dip a day in January inspired by Outdoor Swimming Society‘s Ella Foote. Most try for at least once a week to try and keep acclimatised to the cold water but we have some infrequent seabirds that can go weeks without a swim and still manage to take the plunge when they can. Some plan their week around swim times, some will decide on the day and some stick to rigid times and places. Some only go in at weekend. I have a mixture of my regular swim times, a Seabird of habit, and may also be swayed by an impromptu invitation. The feeling I get after a swim is always the same.

Where seabirds meet to swim also differs. The location is normally dictated by where you live. East Brightonians go in on the beaches in front of Madeira Drive where Sea Lanes and the wonderful warmth of Brighton Beach Box are. Others are more central and so swim on the bandstand beach, in front of Brunswick Square or on D5 (this was the name of the Lifeguard post there). And those further west swim at Marroccos, The King Alfred or Hove Lagoon. When the sea conditions are rough we all head off to New Beach or Shoreham RNLI. Unlike surfers, there are no secret swim spots in our bustling city. In fact we regularly supply the promenade entertainment for walkers, runners and cyclists. Living in north Brighton I take my pick.

The Seabird founders didn’t make a conscious decision-to swim year round or skin swim. It just kinda happened. We started swimming in the sea together when it was warm and we just didn’t stop. I know some hate wet-suits as they feel claustrophobic putting them on and constricted when they swim. I also know others who literally cover their entire body in 5mm of neoprene leaving just their face free – see featured image. Then there are all manner of hats, gloves, socks, rash vests and bobble hats. New swimmers find the flock of seabirds by our distinctive bobble hats! What we wear into the water differs. But the reasons we get in remain the same.

To make certain we practice what we preach we three Seabird Founders have made a commitment to each other to swim together in 2019, just us Directors on a weekly basis to catch up on our personal lives and have fun. This ensures our interactions aren’t all about the balance sheet but more about the balance. We discussed this at length racked with guilt that the Salty Seabirds community would think we had abandoned them once a week. But then we remembered the Salty Seabirds works because it is fluid and you can chose who you swim with, where and when. And that’s ok!

How long you stay in, how far you swim, who you swim with; it all differs. But we still get in and that’s the same. Whatever your preference, limitations or frequency we all love to swim in the sea!

Author: Seabird Kath

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What colour is the sea?

The weather and tides can change in an instant but so does the seascape. What colour is the sea?

The question everyone asks me is “What is the temperature of the sea?” The question I always ask myself is “What colour is the sea?”

When I swim off Brighton’s beaches, with a flock of Seabirds there is a lot of routine to what we do. We find a sheltered spot to change. But this spot can change depending on the state of the beach and the direction of the wind. We check our phones to make sure we haven’t missed any stragglers or welcome fledgling swimmers as we always swim in company. But it is never the same group of people. We look at the tides and conditions and consider the direction of the flow and which way to swim. But we don’t always get it right. We shout, scream and sing on entry into the cold water and gradually split into smaller groups to chat while we swim. But it’s not always the same person you end up swimming with each time and sometimes there is a bit of silence.

It’s in these moments of silence that I always, without fail, consider the colour of the sea. No But. There will always be a point during the swim that I focus on my hands in the water and look at the colour. The seascape changes all of the time. Sometimes the shingle is up on the prom, sometimes you can walk across sand to the pier, sometimes, just sometimes you get lovely lines of surf. Twice a day there is a high and a low tide. All of these changes are obvious to all. But how many people notice the change in colour of the sea?

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We all use the term ‘Sky blue’…but what is sea green? I have rarely swum in the sea when it is green. But there is a palate of colours it has been and will be throughout the year.

A the sea warms up and the season moves from Spring to Summer, May bloom appears.  May Bloom, is an algae bloom that is caused by increased sunlight and water temperature. This causes a massive growth in plankton, which colours up the waters. In 2018 it lasted longer and reached further across the sea surface than I have ever known. It not only changed the colour of the sea to a rusty orange, but gave it the consistency of a really yeasty beer. You literally had to wade through froth to find clearer water to swim in and you left the water with a slimy film on your skin. At high tide the water was too deep to wade through and we ended up with dirty Father Christmas beards. In the magic of one swim as the tide turned to push you could clearly see the plankton in the strong current and swimming through it, head immersed, it was like being in an episode of Stranger Things and swimming through the ‘Upside Down’

In the winter months, storms that sweep across the Atlantic create large swells and the colour of the sea couldn’t be more different from the warm water bloom. It is a dark foreboding pewter in colour, almost metallic. It’s dark colour is almost warning you not to get in. This colour is normally accompanied by large waves that sharply break just before the shingle known as shore dump. And the colour warning should be heeded when the tide is high and the waves are big. It creates a striking contrast against a normally light grey sky and coloured pebbles but it is my least favourite colour for swimming in.

Every now and then there are summer days when the wind is offshore but not cold and the water turns a Mediterranean turquoise. It is so clear you can see the seabed right up until the end of the Pier. As well as being crystal clear, it is a flat as a millpond and the sunlight reflecting on the surface creates mesmerising shimmers and sparkles. This is when the sea is at it’s most inviting and unfortunately in Brighton it’s most busy. There will be days like this over the colder months that ensure the tranquillity of the water can enjoyed with less company but the pay off is ice cream brain as you submerge your face to experience the water clarity.

Aqua green waves are my favourite colour. Again this is a rarity and seems to accompany clean swell that has managed to make it’s way round the Isle of White without finishing at the Witterings. The waves come in regular sets and don’t churn up the seabed leaving the water awash with sand. Instead the sun catches the wave face and creates a shade between green and blue. Like the aquamarine gem it glistens. The colour is just as wonderful experienced from above as it is below the waves.

These really are just a few of the colours the sea can be. There are peaty browns, bright blues and pea greens. It’s all to do with the colour of the light and how it is absorbed by the water and the depth of the water….or so I am told. Not sure I really care how or why the colour if the sea changes, I just love that it does meaning no two swims are ever the same.

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Author: Seabird Kath

Footnote 1: The regency iron railings along the promenade in Brighton are ‘Brighton Blue’ a kind of aqua/turquoise colour. It changes colour from Brighton Blue to Hove Green at the Peace Statue marking the boundary between the once two separate towns.

Footnote 2: 100 Flags and Colour Wheel. Over several weeks throughout 2010 Finch observed the ever changing tone and colour of the English Channel. He then selected a pantone colour swatch for each moment observed resulting in a palette of 100 variants of sea colour, which was used to dye 100 flags. The four existing flagpoles at Christchurch Gardens were used to hoist a different sea-coloured flag every day. The colour of each monochrome flag was determined by an observer of the sea every day of the Triennial following Finch’s swatch. The flag hoister chose the corresponding flags and raised them at midday

Seabird Formation

How the Seabirds went from 3 to 300 members and counting… Sharing the swim love

What do you call a group of seabirds – a screech, a flock, a flotilla? If only we could be flamingos. Then we’d be a fabulous.

But we call ourselves Salty. Salty because of the definition according to the Oxford English Dictionary ; (of language or humour) down-to-earth; coarse. And that describes us perfectly. It goes on to say, “her wild ways and salty language shocked the local gentry”. And we certainly do when we enter the cold water on Brighton’s promenade.

Synonyms include; livelyvigorousspiritedcolourfulsparkling; zesty, zestful, spicysharpracypiquantpungenttangybitinginformal punchy“the Princess has a salty sense of humour” All of these wonderful words aptly describe the Salty Seabird Swimming Community Group.

The Seabird name came from founder Cath. We had been skin swimming in the sea for a while together and our Social Enterprise idea was beginning to take shape but we needed a name. In an unrelated conversation, Cath reflected back to when she moved to Brighton with two young children in 2006. She would regularly take them down to the seafront and the beach.  She recollected seeing more mature ladies getting into the sea on a daily basis and watching them with admiration. Comfortable in their own skin, smiles on their faces and  brave enough to strip off and swim.  The best of Brighton’s colourful characters. She referred to them fondly as ‘Old Birds’ It was only after this reflection that Cath realised she had become one of the women she admired whilst pushing a pram along the prom. She was now a content and confident ‘Old Bird’ and so we began to refer to ourselves as Seabirds.

The bird word stuck. It suited our inclusive nature to swim, change and faff in a flock. We also all felt passionately about encouraging others to discover salted wellbeing. Like the iconic starling murmurations over the West Pier we wanted to work with others to share the swim love and provide opportunities for local folk to improve their wellbeing by getting wet.

So Seabirds was certain but what about a name for our Social Enterprise? Officially with Companies House we are registered as Seabirds Brighton CIC. Mainly because a fish and chip shop in Sunderland had registered the name Seabirds before us. This is s a bit of a mouthful to use on a daily basis so we settled on Seabirds Ltd for our trading arm. For our ‘Women Wellbeing and Water’ service we are simply Seabirds. And for our swimming community group we are Salty Seabirds

It never ceases to amaze us just how much our little swimming group has grown. We have gone from 10 to 173 Salty Seabirds. People have come across us in so many ways. The usual Facebook, Instagram and Twitter but our favourite finder is Helen. She doesn’t use Social Media but regularly walks along the seafront to work and saw us frolicking and decided she wanted some salted wellbeing. She has now been swimming with us for over a year. And a question we are always asked, (other than what is the temperature of the sea?, ) is can men join us for a swim too?  Of course they can!

Since running our Women Wellbeing and Water Pilot in September, all of the participants have joined us regularly in the Brighton briney for a daily dip.  And they have told their friends and word of mouth has spread the swim love even further. So many Seabirds that meet up and swim at different times, in different attire at different spots. It is the perfect place to sign post swimmers too after they have completed courses with us. A really supportive community group that allows people to swim in company.

Long Live Seabirds – preserved with salt!

Author: Seabird Kath

 

 

 

The benefits of a Swimming Community

As our Salty Seabird Swimming Community grows, a reflection on the benefits of swimming with others.

I have been swimming in the sea for as long as I can remember. My mother likes to take credit for my love of the sea as I spent a huge part of my childhood in, on or near the sea. I won’t even consider a holiday that isn’t near water. My happy place and happy times are shared with my husband and kids. Sharing time in the water with them is my favourite thing to do.

My biggest swimming achievement this year was swimming solo around the buoys off Brighton’s beach. It wasn’t my best swim of the year. Yet it was memorable as it was a first for me. Although I am confident swimmer I can get spooked by what lies beneath and am known to chant’ just keep swimming’, a la Dory, in my head. I regularly swim round the buoys with the Salty Seabirds and out to the West Pier Marker Buoy with the local Surf Life Saving Club but never solo. On my own it was a very different swim. There was no stopping and chatting at the buoys, silly photo taking, buoy climbing or floating and admiring the shoreline view. This got me thinking. I can swim around the buoys on my own, but I don’t and not because I can’t, it’s because I don’t want to. I like sharing my swims.

There has been lots of research on the benefits of cold water swimming and the positive impact it can have on physical and mental wellbeing. Here in Brighton there is a large beach community of swimmers that swim all year round. Many of these swimmers also spend their time out of the water researching the benefits of sea swimming. They hope to gain funding to enable more people to get in the sea. Open Water Swimming is becoming popular with people from all walks of life, all readiness levels, shapes and sizes all keen to experience benefits that are so widely talked about. The post swim ‘high’ is promoted as the new drug of choice to beat depression and for me personally it is. But the positive impact can be as much about the cold water physical effect as being about the community and the sense of belonging.

The Outdoor Swimming Society is a brilliant organisation with really useful information for swimmers. One of the things they advocate is swimming with others as part of their tips for safe swimming. But for me, I do not swim with others for safety (although this is also a consideration). I swim with others as part of a shared experience and shared love of the sea. I get the same benefits from being with a bunch of like minded Seabirds during the getting changed faff and the mandatory tea and cake as I do from sharing the sea with them. The Seabirds are my sanctuary, my safe space, my solace. My community.

What is remarkable is that I did not know many of the Seabirds a year, month or week ago. Some I am yet to even meet. They have grown so rapidly in their numbers and organise swims as a self service. Attracted to the inclusive community, they post where and when they are swimming and if that suits, others will join. You can enter the sea as strangers and exit the sea as friends. It has been amazing to watch this growth over the summer months and into the autumn. They are a bunch of people who take to the sea for self care and wish to do it with companions. They have become a community.

There are a number of books I have read about the swim community. But as fictional novels or a collection of personal journal entries. Some of my favourite books resonate with me because they are centred around a group of people that draw strength from each other in the water. I don’t think these books were written with the intention of of promoting the positive impact of belonging to a swim community. But they have. ‘I found my Tribe‘, ‘The Whistable High Tide swimming Club‘ and ‘The Lido‘ to name but a few all have a swimming community as a theme.

Whether it be Lido’s, Lake or Lochs, the outdoor swimming community provides a sense of belonging in a very fragmented society. Swimming groups provide each other with confidence and friendship unified by a love of being outdoors and in the water. Unlike many other outdoor activities it straddles age groups, gender and socio-economic status. You don’t need to be fit to do it, it’s free or relatively cheap and in certain circumstances you don’t really need to be able to swim – as long as you get wet it counts.

In Brighton, there is a swim community group or club to suit all. Brighton Swimming Club founded in 1860 has a long tradition of sea swimming and has changing facilities east of the Palace Pier. iSWIM is a newly formed club that operates organised swims and events from Brighton Sailing Club by the West Pier. The Brighton Tri Club and Brighton Tri Race Series run training sessions in the sea over the summer months. We have our fingers crossed that Sea Lanes will receive planning approval to build an outdoor pool on the sea front creating a sea swimming community hub. There are lots of smaller community groups too that are more fluid in terms of their swims and facilities. Salty Seabirds is one of these.

The Salty Seabirds community aren’t concerned with swimming times or distances. Depending on who joins us on the day will dictate whether it’s a disciplined swim around the buoys or a leisurely social swim, parallel to the pebbles, counting the concrete groynes. You can chose your stroke. Some do front crawl, others breaststroke and a few back stroke. We are yet to spot a butterflying seabird. We understand that there are points in people’s lives where they need support; to build resilience and make improvements to their well being. The sea dipping and swimming seabird community provides company and respite from day to day challenges and worries.

So strong is the sense of community that we three founding members of Salty Seabirds set up a business together. In 2017, we experienced significant changes in our lives, resulting in daily sea swims. We all needed solace from the rat race and some life-changing curve balls and we found this in the sea and from each other. The simple joy of meeting, getting in the cold water together, being outside and doing something playful had a really powerful effect on all of us. Whilst chatting, bobbing, changing, faffing and drinking tea, Seabirds Ltd was formed; in the sea, where all the best ideas are born! We decided to build a business with a moral code; ethical trading, organic, anti-waste and pro-people business, with a trading arm generating alternative funding for charities and local community groups.

Alongside this, the Salty Seabird swimming community was ever present and grew from us three to over 100 swimmers organising up to three different swims in different locations in a single day. We’ve all noticed the huge benefits that being in, on, or near the sea has had on both our physical and mental health and well being. Creating a way for others to experience these benefits was a natural next step. In 2019 we plan to run confidence courses to encourage women into the sea . The course will act as a foundation for women to join the already established swimming community group providing them with respite from daily worries, a support network and a regular activity and meet up.

We recognised the need for salted wellbeing. We recognised the need for community.

Author: Kath Seabird

Cold Water Swimming Hack!

How to beat the after-drop after cold water swimming

Discovered a few weeks ago whilst river swimming….

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I took an isothermal bottle  full of boiling water, my daughter’s mini hot-water-bottle and two core-warmers; one cotton for next to the skin and an ultra-warm one. Once out of the water and dressed (and while my fingers still worked) I filled the hot-water-bottle with the boiling water and popped the hot water bottle into my “roo pouch” of haramakis! Together with my robe, I built up a nice, warm core, which radiated heat.  Adding tea and amazing marmalade cakes, made for a delightfully happy, post-swim seabird! Been doing it ever since to beat the after-drop

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Author: Seabird Catherine

The Gift of Giving – Gift Vouchers

Gift Vouchers are seen, by some, as a cop out. A way for distant relatives to oblige the kids or a present in a hurry. We at Seabirds HQ have a different view. A voucher is a great gift that allows the recipient to get something they really want, avoid postage costs of large presents and avoids plastic presents. Groups can club together and buy gift vouchers for an individual so their total to spend allows them to purchase an otherwise over budget buy. It also enables gifts to be thoughtful and avoid Christmas consumerism. Giving a voucher ensures the recipient spends time relaxing, learning something new, getting outdoors or doing something they love. Who wouldn’t want a massage or a sauna!

Here are some of our favourites from the Brighton Beach Community!

SeaLanes Brighton

SeaLanes Brighton gift vouchers make the perfect gift for family or friends. Whether they are a keen swimmer looking to improve their stroke, or a novice looking to gain confidence, give them the gift of swim coaching in the most advanced endless pool available.There are four gift voucher values available and these correspond with the SeaLanes coaching options. Seabirds have tried, tested and loved the coaching session which uses high definition underwater cameras, to provide instantaneous visual analysis of your technique. Using the video playback, you and your coach can then see exactly what you are doing in the water allowing you to make adjustments to your stroke there and then. It’s on our Christmas List to go back again for more amazing Andy analysis.

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Beach Box Brighton

Situated within the SeaLanes complex Beach Box Brighton is a wood-fired sauna spa right on on the beach. Their set-up, on a secluded area of Brighton beach, includes a wood-fired sauna in a beautiful converted horse box, indoor changing and hot showers, cold showers/buckets and chill-out area. It is the perfect place post sea swim to warm up. Again Seabirds have tried and tested the sauna and will be returning this weekend with a new batch of birds to experience the Finnish fun. Currently open at weekends over the winter months but it can be privately hired on request. In true beach community style they are donating £1 from each voucher to our Social Enterprise which in turn will enable us to get more people in the sea to improve their well being. We even got owner Liz to swim with us in the summer.

Brighton Beach Bikes

More than just a bike shop, Brighton Beach Bikes is a seafront institution. Run by born and bred Mark there is nothing he doesn’t know about the local area and not just bike routes! You can hire your bike on-line and pick up on the seafront or join a tour. There really is nothing better than being outside with the whole family. So why not book a bike for the Spring with family or friends to ensure you get outdoors and get to spend time with each other. In the summer months Mark swims regularly and welcomes anybody to join him or is always happy to look after your stuff. They have a selection of clothing, swimwear and accessories in store. Take home an original design Brighton Beach Bikes t-shirt, or if you want to give your bike that Californian style they’ve some cool bike accessories from Electra. They are experienced sea swimmers so they carry swimwear, goggles and wetsuits from TYR and Aqua Sphere as well. It’s where the Seabirds get theirs!

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Seabirds Ltd

An then there is us! We have just launched our Gift Vouchers. Not only does the voucher allow the recipient to chose a gift from our webshop it also allows the purchaser to give as they live. As a Social Enterprise everything we sell increases the donation we make to Surf Solace, a local community group. They aim to improve the wellbeing and mental health of Sussex based young people by encouraging them to participate in sea activities with a supportive group of volunteers. Surf Solace will launch in the summer of 2019 and the unrestricted funds website purchases raise will be used to buy equipment such as surf boards and wetsuits.

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