For the love of Swimming….

A Valentines Guest Blog by Seabird Didi

In her own words “here is my loved up offering post swim….warning….it’s gushy as I’m still high on endorphins……feeling the love!”

Managed almost 7 minutes in the sea today….although a good amount of that was me squawking and backing out and just splashing my face to try and acclimatise. Because this is the thing….I have always hated cold weather and cold water….but I know how amazing I feel when I have been in………and actually I have always loved the extremes of sauna and cold water……….but it’s also more than that…..there’s something in me that just feels the pull to swim outside and dive through that cold shock and I can’t put it into words but it feels as vital and important as breath. I can happily swim for ages in warm water…..dreamily and no effort…..I’ve always considered myself a strong swimmer, very much at home in the sea. But the WINTER cold sea; that’s a fairly new and challenging experience for me.

For for about 10 minutes before I go in I am getting anxious and then feeling stupid for feeling anxious about a self imposed activity that’s meant to be fun……..everyone else is smiling and excited whereas I am gritting my teeth and trying to squash down my fears. Butterfly nerves make me jittery and a little ungrounded. Then I am standing there with my hefty frame, in just my swimsuit, feeling ungorgeous, unglamorous and quite frankly ridiculous. I’m the biggest I have ever been and NOW is the time I take this up?

At this point some beach walkers usually clock us and stop to have a look. Sometimes they take photos. My private humiliation not quite complete….I then venture down to the sea’s edge and take quite a while dithering and flapping and shrieking…….watching my friends leap and dive in with confidence and joy.

My breath catches sharply, alarmingly and I feel like I have forgotten how to breathe out. FOMO wins every time though and VERY reluctantly and in a sort of disbelief I submerge myself….I practice my long out breath…..I steady my nerves…..I find my focus and then suddenly my arms and legs are paddling like crazy and I’m properly swimming…….in the winter sea with no wet-suit…..I feel like I’m crazy wild woman and I love it…..after 2 minutes of biting, painful sensations on my skin I can feel my physiology waking up from its domestic slumber and finally I feel THAT joy. I feel like a kid again.

My body remembers ancient and primal skills and starts activating clever responses to cold stress and physical challenge that I didn’t know it had. I feel euphoric and clever and strong and free and happy. I gurn like a loon to my swimming companions and blabber a lot at them about all sorts of nonsense. I marvel in the wild untamed beauty of the sea…….I coo at my clever swim socks, that delay that numbness just enough. I look back at the shore my perspective changed and my eyes feel soothed by the vast space and innocent beauty of it all. It feels like we are protected from the busyness, out of the spinning hamster wheel for a wonderful and precious little moment.

I feel so so so grateful to live here, to have this on our doorstep and even more grateful that I have a shared love of this with friends and now a growing community of Salty Seabirds, Sea Sploshers, Kemptown Kippers and of course the amazing iSWIM crew and most of all my lovely mate Laura without whom I would not have dived in at all.

Love (and friends) and the sea is all you need

💖💖💖Happy Valentines Day Salty ones 💖💖💖

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The Rock – Swimming with my Spouse

My rock in stormy seas. Introducing Mr Seabird

The final part in the family swim stories trilogy.

Part I – Libby in the Lakes – swimming with my Daughter

Part II – Monarch of the Glen – swimming with a Laird

My husband and my depression, have been constants in my life since I was teenager. We met when I was 12 and he was 13 and we got together when I was 15 and he was 16. Right about the time when my teenage brain was experiencing it’s first incidence of poor mental health, and seeking out new risky experiences, resulting in lots of poor choices. He watched the poor choices from the wings, without partaking himself, often clearing up the debris.

Over the years, like any couple we’ve had our ups and downs, as my mental health has had it’s up and downs. Sometimes the two things are intertwined. My choices have improved with age and so has his support. He doesn’t always agree with my choices, decisions and ideas but his support is unwavering. When I let him get a word in edge-ways, he has been known to give bloomin’ good advice. He is the rock I cling to in stormy seas.

My choice to skin swim in the sea year round is also watched from the wings. He loves that I do it, but he neither has the time or inclination to join me. He enjoys being at the beach or in the sea but he prefers gentle beach breaks or small hidden coves and warmer sea temperatures. Our holiday choices are easy. It has to be by the sea and the car is filled with neoprene, SUPs and surf boards. He will get up early for solo surfs and be the first one to suggest a sunset swim before bed. Finding a beautiful secluded beach in Cornwall a couple of years ago and forgetting our swimsuits meant a skinny dip was inevitable. The teens are yet to forgive us.

Our holiday choices match but the type of swims we like can differ. I have been bought up on steep shingle shelves and long shore drift. Brighton beach is my favourite place to swim. It’s familiar, although ever changing. It’s my safe space although sometimes precarious. He only likes it local when it’s warmer and when it’s slack tide. He hates the, sometimes unstoppable, strong tidal current that can be like swimming on travelator going the wrong way. A couple of hard swims home when I’ve encouraged him to swim with me didn’t help lessen his hatred for fast moving water.

On special occasions I can convince him to swim with me on home territory. The featured image above show the pre-swim smiles of my 45th birthday. Early on a Sunday morning in July he accompanied me for a swim out to the buoys in front of the King Alfred. There is no post swim photo. There was no post swim chat. There was only post swim sulks, from both of us. The cross shore pull that had made reaching the buoy relatively easy was making the swim back tough. As I swam beside him giving advice on where to aim for to exit the sea safely and where we had left our bags I infuriated him more as I was able to talk and swim and wasn’t in the slightest bit concerned about getting back to dry land. We ended up having a row in the sea that resulted in me swimming off in the direction I had suggested and him the other. In hindsight I realise I had taken him out of his comfort zone, then emasculated him with my nonchalance in the water only to abandon him when he was feeling vulnerable. The salt in the wound being the walk over sharp shingles at the end of his ordeal. He is so confident in every other aspect of his life it didn’t enter my mind that this was something he was doing for me and not necessarily something he wanted to do.

It really is the pull of a current that he hates. In a warm non-tidal Mediterranean sea he would regularly take the children out to depths and distances that left me watching from a sunbed in horror. Fortunately, a couple of bad experiences haven’t put him off swimming with me…..just not in Brighton. This year’s birthday was spent swimming the Somerset Levels together. Pull of the water panic was replaced by pike panic. There was our trip to Scotland. The glens and waterfalls are hands down, the most beautiful place we have both ever had the pleasure of swimming. The peaty dark brown lochs provided a very different swimming experience as he confidently entered the water I splashed and stayed in the shallows put off by the murky water and what could lie beneath. He also joined my sister and I when we swam in Bude Tide Pool in April in armed only with his swim shorts. But he is at his happiest in a Cornish cove in the summer.

I call him a fair-weather swimmer but he is really not. He just doesn’t enjoy some of the same swims as me and there is nothing fair-weather about being married to me. All the while I wish to skin swim, year round I have the company of the Salty Seabirds. Absence makes the heart grow fonder after all!

Scribe: Seabird Kath

Footnote: I am reading and editing this in bed pre-publication and he is snoring to the point of punching his face in! It ain’t all hearts and roses.

Birds get Big Lottery Grant

This week at Seabirds HQ we have received the wonderful news that we will receive a lottery grant. The grant will fund a 6 week course focusing on women’s confidence in the water. It is aimed at women who wish to improve their physical, emotional and mental well being.  There are lots of courses locally run to help people transition from the pool to the sea but many people are intimidated by these courses, and imagine the participants to be all fit die-hard triathletes. Whether this be true or not, there is definitely a demand for a female-centric course. Many women struggle to get into a swim suit, let alone a pool or the wide open sea. Yet it is exactly these women that would benefit so much from introducing open water swimming into their lives.

The course will run in June 2019 but we will be testing out the course content on some ‘willing’ volunteers in September 2018. Our working title is Women, Well being and Water. We will be working with other agencies, charities and local community groups to create a course framework that can easily be used by other groups and clubs.

There are points in people’s lives where they need support to build resilience and to make improvements to their wellbeing. We believe that outdoor swimming can improve outcomes for women experiencing mental health challenges from first-hand experience. Having an understanding of the benefits of getting in the sea all year round, the Seabirds want to help make sure more people have the opportunity. Their courses aim to reduce obstacles to sea swimming, empower more women to get in the sea and use this fabulous, free, local resource in a safe and confident way.

Many women that would benefit most from sport and physical activity are the very women who are least likely to participate for cultural, personal, practical, and economic reasons. Helping women to overcome these barriers and supporting them to engage in activity will provide them with many positive outcomes and ensure that access to sport and physical activity is equal for all.

Open water swimming benefits have been researched and written about a great deal over the last few years and is often referred to as Blue Science. In 2009, Prof Michael Depledge and Dr William Bird, from the European Centre for Environment and Health, based out of the University of Exeter Medical School, proposed a notion called the “Blue Gym” – the idea being that the sea can be used as motivation to exercise outdoors to influence health and wellbeing.

Various social factors put women at greater risk of poor mental health than men. However, women’s readiness to talk about their feelings and their strong social networks can help protect their mental health. Seabirds already have an established network of sea swimmers that gain confidence and happiness from being part of a community group. The course would 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 literally cannot wait to get more women in the sea!

Seabirds Pop Up where you least expect it

Summer fairs, fetes and festivals. Anywhere there is bunting and a chance to chat the Seabirds will ‘Pop Up’.

‘Popping Up’ is a really good way of gaining retail space, a shop front if you like, without committing to expensive lease agreements, employee wages and business rates. It allows you to get to know your customers and solicit face to face feedback in an informal setting at a really low cost. As well as being an opportunity to sell our reusable and sustainable goods it is also allows you to connect and start a conversation about sea swimming and the benefits associated with it.

In addition to the launch of our website and on-line shop , the summer of 2018 has seen us ‘Pop Up’ at The Friends of Blakers Park fete and Balfour School Summer Fair. Both incredibly friendly and well organised events providing a gateway into the community. This months sees us attending The Brunswick Festival on August 18th & 19th and Lagoonfest on September 8th. Both a bit closer to the sea so there will be opportunities for a quick dip in our break.

So pop along and you may spot a seabird or two………

If you like what we do and want to support our start up Community Interest Company but aren’t able to make the events some supportive local businesses have started to stock Seabird products. We have been warmly welcomed into the Brighton Beach Community by Brighton Watersports and Brighton Bikes who are displaying some of our own branded goods. If you head down there to hire bikes or boards you will see the seabird logo in their shop fronts.

Also Quaff and Wastenot shop have pledged their support by stocking seabird coffee cups, water bottles and pint pots. Local businesses helping each other and sharing the Seabird love has kept us buoyant as we navigate the sometimes rough seas of starting up your own business. It’s true when they say , when you buy from a small business and actual person does a little happy dance.

So come find us at our Pop Ups or buy local and make someone dance. Be part of the community.

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………

Surf Solace – an introduction to the South Coast’s newest charity

Over recent years a lot has been written about young people’s mental health. The teenage years are a challenging time for all young people as they struggle with changing bodies, hormones and establishing their place in the adult world. For some, due to family relationships, socio-economic factors, mental illness such as anxiety or depression, unique traits such as autism, or specific traumas such as bereavement, it can all become just too much. Moreover, in these times of austerity, the services that provide young people with the support they need to navigate these challenges are sadly, barely available.

Local Fire Fighter, Shaun Challis, has become all too aware of this during his time coaching young people in various aquatic sports and school enrichment programmes. Hence his drive to set up a new charity ‘Surf Solace’ on the shores of Lancing Beach in West Sussex. 1 in 10 young people aged from 5 to 15 suffer from a mental health problem (Mental Health Foundation, 2013). Factors that can influence this are apparent in this community and the Local Authority report ‘Adur and Worthing Community Profile 2014’ shows Adur to be the most deprived local authority area in West Sussex; with anti-social behaviour as the most common crime. Adur also has the highest percentage of 16+ year olds with no qualifications in West Sussex, over a quarter of the entire 16+ population – a shocking statistic by any measure.

‘Taking the waters’ for health and well being has a long history in the UK. There’s growing evidence to support the tradition of sea swimming, surfing, etc for health and well being; suggesting time spent in natural settings, like beaches is beneficial.  

Surf Solace aims to improve young people’s self-esteem and well being by using the sea as a resource!  They will provide six-week, sea-based activity courses for up to 20 children and young people aged 11-18, who are at risk of social exclusion or mental health issues. Sessions will be delivered with 1:1 support from volunteers within the local beach community; bringing both participants and experienced sea and beach users together. The idea being that the participants grow in self-confidence and learn new skills to help them navigate through life. Most importantly, the sessions are free of any pressure to succeed – participants can work at their own pace and achieve their own goals. To take part, clients must be referred by someone working with them professionally, such as a support worker, teacher, doctor, counsellor or similar. Best of all, there will be no charge for the courses.

The new charity has 3 Trustees; all local people, who advocate the positive impact the sea environment can have on well-being and recognise the need for ‘Sea Therapy’ in the community. Phil is a local sports enthusiast who runs his own water activity company and has regularly volunteered as a mentor to young people.  Mel manages the BHT Threshold Women’s Service & their Mental Health and Wellbeing Service. In her younger days she was an outdoor pursuits instructor and a competitive swimmer. She is an experienced  psychotherapist who regularly volunteers for local community groups that focus on the sea and well-being. Lastly Ferg is a dad that has learnt to surf in his middle age and gradually love the sea! (mainly as he is forced to spend most of his spare time in the sea with his wife and kids). Crucially, he is familiar with the third sector and gives up much of his time to support small, local charities.

However, setting up a new charity is no easy task; particularly in the light of the bad press many larger, well known charities are attracting. The first hurdle has been a chicken and egg conundrum. In order to gain approval from the Charity Commission you need to demonstrate cash in your bank account. In order to get start-up funds via grant applications you must be a registered charity. So, unless you have a wealthy benefactor, you’re rather up against it. Seabirds Brighton CIC have pledged our support for the fledgling charity in the form of unrestricted funds via the profits from our trading arm web shop and crowdfunding campaign. Sadly, this has not yet been sufficient to launch the pilot therapy course planned for September 2018 due to substantial set-up costs. Amongst other things, expensive public liability insurance is mandatory sea activity equipment such as wetsuits and surf boards don’t come cheap. Although this has been disappointing for all involved, the upside is that it has provided more time to concentrate on fundraising activities to ensure that everything is ready to go in Spring/Early Summer 2019.

What you can do to help

  • Donate – either your time, old equipment like foam surfboards, wetsuits etc or cold hard cash. You can also contact them to understand how you can make a one-off donation or set up a monthly standing order to support their aim of getting more kids in the water and improving their outlook on life.
  • You can contact Surf Solace  by following them on Facebook to offer your services as a volunteer, both in and out of the water, or drop off old equipment.
  • Buy products from Seabirds to provide unrestricted funding for the 2019 courses.
  • Attend events – throughout the year there will be events to raise funds for Surf Solace – the most imminent being Perch Beach outdoor cinema nights on Lancing beach.

 

Seabird’s Book Club – July Book

So I finished the Salt Path. It was a wonderful read. I know many of the places referred to on the SW Coastal Path so it was very familiar to me. The situation the main characters found themselves in, is not. It left me heart broken at times, especially knowing that this was NOT a work of fiction! A read for the bedroom or the sofa rather than a public beach unless you are wearing a huge pair of Jackie ‘O’ glasses to hide the tears. I really warmed to Raynor – a survivor in the truest sense. If you haven’t read it yet – DO!

This month’s book is The Last Wave by Gillian Best. Her debut novel. I am already nearly finished and is an easy read. The story is told by the main characters – each with their own perspective on events that happen throughout their lives. Always in the background is one woman’s love of sea swimming and the escape from day to day drudge, responsibilities and worries it provides. The main character, Martha, is clearly a Seabird. I hope you enjoy the July read.

Here’s the blurb: A beautifully rendered family drama set in England between the 1940s and the present, following the life of Martha, a woman who has swum the English Channel ten times, and the complex relationships she has with her husband, her children and her close friends.

The one constant in Martha’s life is the sea, which offers an escape from her responsibilities as a wife and a mother, consolation when she becomes ill and comfort when her husband succumbs to dementia.

The Last Wave is a wholly authentic, tragicomic portrait of family life as it is buffeted by sickness, intolerance, anger, failure and regret. This mature and compelling new voice offers a novel soaked in empathy and salt water.

Here’s how the seabirds virtual Book Club works;

  • Once a Month a new book is chosen for the Seabird virtual Book Blub members to read.
  • It will be announced on Social Media.
  • Ideally the book chosen should be water, sea, swimming, well being related.
  • Anyone can chose a book or write a review – just comment away on social media or here.