Love Birds

It isn’t just the love of swimming. We love each other. Birds of a feather flock together.

I love my Swimming Family. My Seabird Flock. My Salty Sisterhood. Swimming with the Salty Seabirds is a true love story.

 

Richard Curtis reminded us all that, ‘Love Actually’ is all around us. Love comes in many guises and sizes. On a regular basis, I #sharetheswimlove with an eclectic bunch of (mainly) women, in the sea, off Brighton and Hove’s beaches. It ain’t all hearts and roses all of the time and not everyone in the group is my post swim cup of tea. But there is a lot of love.

We are bonded together by our love of the sea. At times, it can be a romantic love, a passionate love, a familial love. It’s not the romantic love you share with a partner or the unconditional love that you have for your family but it is still the type of love that can feel like butterflies in your stomach. There is no physical attraction, instead a strong connection, but it can make your heart sing all the same.

I have experienced and witnessed the love of friendship as kindness, trust and companionship within our salty community. You may not know the name of the swimmer that held your hand and helped you into the sea. Or the name of the swimmer who gave you a pair of gloves when they could see your hands were turning blue. Or the name of the swimmer that shared their hot drink with you when you forgot yours. But in that moment they showed you the love of friendship. When someone wants the best for you, when you are comfortable and happy around them, they are your friends.

I sometimes refer to the Seabirds as my swimming family or the salty sisterhood. Like conventional families we have a strong bond and a mutual love for one another and swimming in the sea. As is the case with your closest loved ones, you wish to spend time with them and share a special connection. It is not the blood in our veins that bonds us, but the salt on our skin. Your family are people that are always there for you and have a positive influence on your life. This is acutely apparent in our group.

We recently swam under the starling mumurations during our Snow Moon swim. It was incredible. Watching nature’s mass ariel stunt show from the best seat in the house, in the sea, floating on your back, was quite possibly the best swim of my life. They move in unison creating patterns and shapes that change in an instant. No-one is really sure why they do it but there are theories.  One is that they come together as there is safety in numbers and their mumurations confuse potential predators. Another theory is that they gather together as dusk for warmth and to exchange information before roosting. A bunch of birds that don’t know each other coming together for the good of the group. Now where have I come across that before? Over the last 18 months I have watched in wonder at our group’s capacity to love. A fierce protective love of the group and a kind and supportive love of individuals. We are swimming starlings.

It isn’t just that we share a love for the sea, we share a love for each other. I see so often a seabird scooped up by the group when they have needed to be held and helped. Our group is only 18 months young so the friendships that have been forged are still in their infancy yet, cemented in the sea, they are strong. Single salties spending Christmas day together. Seabirds looking after each others dogs and children so they can work or have a restorative swim. Sharing experiences of bereavement and finding comfort in each others stories. Providing shoulders to cry on or a welcome distraction. Answering calls to arms to raise money or awareness for causes close to swimmers hearts. We accommodate, we adapt, we go the extra mile for swimmers we hardly know. Birds of a feather, flock together. What is that, if that is not love?

Author: Seabird Kath

Starling Photo Credit: Michael Knight

 

Self Love this Valentines Day

Guest Blog by Salty Seabird Claudine and embracing Self Love this Valentaines

Guest Blog by Seabird Claudine.

“Wow, she really loves herself.” It was a serious insult to others when I was growing up.  Conceited, cocky, arrogant.  Probably an offensive slur I had thrown at me at times, when the brash exterior self I showed to the world belied the insecure reality underneath.  “Self-love” was certainly not something I was striving to achieve.  I thought it was a bad thing.  It seemed better to be self-loathing, self-deprecating, self-conscious – all whilst being bubbly and confident, but not too confident, or else you loved yourself.  See the conundrum here?

That was back then.  Over the years, with all the personal development I’ve done, it slowly dawned on me that loving myself wasn’t an act of arrogance and it didn’t mean I thought I was better than everyone else. I realised that self-love was not only acceptable, but maybe even preferable for my mental and emotional wellbeing.
In 2017 I discovered the body image movement, when a friend suggested going to a screening of Embrace, that’s when it really struck me as more than “OK” to have self-acceptance. After a lifetime of dieting, striving for a smaller body, putting things on hold until I’d just reached that next size down, lost those last few pounds, hoping then I would feel more comfortable in my skin, I discovered it didn’t have to be that way.
The content of the documentary about positive body image hit me like a ton of bricks; a ton of bricks I didn’t have to diet-away.  I heard messages I’d never considered, and had a number of genuine light-bulb moments whilst watching the film, as well as some tears at the sadness of the time wasted on diet culture and self-criticism.  We can take for granted that we need to be slender to be attractive, have curves in the right places and not the wrong ones, and that the only way to be healthy is to be slim.  That our skin can’t show the signs of ageing, wrinkles or cellulite, and god forbid we have hair anywhere but on our heads!  We are told from a young age we must strive for the ideal of beauty that we see everywhere, but these days, that ideal is fake.  Big lips, bums and boobs, small waist, ankles and arms.  Photo-shopped, botoxed, filtered, surgeried, dieted, obsessively exercised, waxed, shaved, sat with a make-up artist and hair stylist for hours.  We can’t look like that and it’s not just young women thinking they can and should.

The beauty industry has told us we have flaws so they can sell us creams, exercise plans, diets, pills and even lollipops to fix them; and we fall for it, making them billions of pounds.  Restrictive eating is a slippery slope to eating disorders.  Living our lives striving to be smaller, fitter, smoother, creates a perfect breeding ground for anxiety and depression.  And putting our life on hold and waiting to feel happy when we’ve made that final change that definitely will be the last one, is a recipe for living an unfulfilled life.

I listened recently with sadness to a radio story about a mum whose daughter had stolen her credit card to get botox, fillers and even surgery to improve her looks at 16 years old, and her parents found out the night before she was booked in for a nose job.  The daughter begged her parents to let her go ahead with it, and they eventually agreed, as she was absolutely convinced that the surgery would sort her out, solve her problems, and make her feel good.  And it did: for a few days.  Her problems weren’t physical, they weren’t about the bump on her nose but she had been brainwashed to believe they were, and they’d be fixed by the surgeon’s knife.
What if we started to really believe beauty comes in all forms?  Because it truly does.
What if we saw getting old as something to be celebrated as not everyone gets to do so?  We should welcome each wrinkle as it shows another laugh we shared with loved ones.
What if we learned to value people for more than their looks?  We should realise that we are so much more than the shell that carries us around.
What if we stopped assuming we can tell how healthy someone is just by looking at them?  We should know that thin people get ill, so do fat people, and fat people get ill, and can be healthy.  Also, that people aren’t worth less even if they are unhealthy.
What if we weren’t glorifying obesity by being body positive, but recognising that the mental health crisis we have in society could be somewhat eased if we took this beauty burden off our shoulders.  We would still take care of ourselves, we would move our bodies for fun and to make them stronger.  What if we worked with girls from a young age to believe this, to value and take care of themselves and see beauty inside themselves and others regardless of the outer casing?


I have totally changed my attitude towards exercise.  I do the kind I like as there isn’t only one way of being fit and strong.  I don’t have to force myself to run when I hate it.  I don’t have a marathon in me, or a half, or even any more 10k’s, but I can swim 4km and can yoga like a yogi.  I don’t always do as much exercise as I’d like, but I don’t beat myself up when I don’t, then turn to the biscuit tin because, “well, what’s the point now?”
Since seeing the film, I have felt so much more comfortable in my skin.  The road to self-love, of which a positive body image is just one part, is a journey, and body neutrality is on the way.  For some, that’s where they will get off the train and where they’ll stay, and that’s good enough.  Feeling neutrally towards one’s body is far better than loathing it, and it will give you so much more freedom.
Since seeing the film I discovered outdoor swimming, now in my second winter, and this helped on my body image journey.  It’s pointless worrying about how I look when I’m trying to get dressed and it’s blowing a gale.  I’ve come to respect my body for what it can do, that not everyone’s can, such as walking into 4 degree water and having a swim.  I truly believe this body is worthy, I value my health and wellness, and at times even love it.  There, I’ve said it, some days I love myself, and whilst my 14 year old self still cringes a little inside, my 43 year old self knows that’s OK.  So this Valentine’s day, if you haven’t already tried saying it to yourself, go on, have a go.  You might even believe it.

I hope you can join us for our next screening of Embrace: 13th Feb, 7.30 at the Walrus pub in Brighton.  Tickets on Eventbrite, here:  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/embrace-the-documentary-hove-tickets-90587253915

claudine8

Meet The Flockers; A Salty Seabird Introduction

Introducing a new series of blogs focusing on individual Salty Seabirds, providing an insight into their sea swimming story.

Welcome to Pass the Salt Seabird Blog’s newest addition. Meet the Flockers is a series of blogs that focuses on a different Salty Seabird each month.

One of the best things (and there are lots of best things) about being a Salty Seabird is, you never know who you are going to end up swimming with. We arrive at the beach in dribs and drabs and then faff, swim and chat to whoever happens to be there. The things we hardly share with each other are our names and occupations. In that moment the person faffing, swimming or chatting next to you is your companion, your confidant, your compeer. And we require no more than that.

What binds us together and keeps us coming back for more is a shared love of the sea and the beach and the positive impact it has on our individual and collective wellbeing. We don’t know why our fellow Salties swim in the sea and we don’t pry. That is until now. We are putting together a series of blogs to introduce you to some of our fellow swimmers and bring ‘Salted Wellbeing’ away from the beach and into our homes.

If you would like to feature as a ‘flocker’ do get in touch. It will involve no more than an hour of your time, some honest dialogue over a hot brew (preferably post swim) and a donation of a couple of your favourite swim smile images to accompany your story. As our flock continues to grow we have found that other swimmers benefit from hearing (read reading) the stories behind the swim smiles. So much can resonate and adds to the feeling of belonging. It is a way to #sharetheswimlove

In the past, we have been lucky enough to be gifted with some wonderful guest blogs written buy our swimming flock. Here are the links to them all. So this weekend click on the links and get to know some of your fellow sea swimmers and consider becoming a flocker!

Kim – A Cold Water Love Affair

Amy – Finding My Inner Mermaid

Sally – How to Surf the Urge

Didi – For the Love of Swimming

Charlotte – Marine Life

Rowena – The Cure for Anything is Salt Water

Anne – A Birds Eye View

Lorraine – A Seabird Song

Claudine – January doesn’t have to be Blue

Eloise – Mama and the Sea

Mama and the Sea!

Guest Blog by Salty Seabird Eloise.

Why I swim in the sea in winter? Several people have asked me to write more but I never have because it feels a little vulnerable. I write Facebook posts sharing windows into my life and I get such a warm response so I thought, fuck it. Here we are.

I would take my daughter, Odetta, down to the sea every evening just to kill that awful hour at 4pm when it’s too early to feed the beast and too late to take her anywhere in public without her having an exhaustion meltdown. Just as the sun would be setting I’d put so many layers on her that she would resemble a burst couch, tufts of wild blonde hair sprouting from her thick wool hat. The hat itself was way too big and would end up resting on those big pink cheeks she inherited from me. I would stop at Costa and get us hot chocolates to warm our hands as we made our way down to that beautiful blue. Sometimes when I walk with her hand in mine I have to pause to take in the fact I created this little wildling and those hands still seem so tiny in mine.

I started this ritual of going to the beach every evening when she was about 6 months old. Why? because being a single mum sucks sometimes. Winter nights start so early and once that baby is down I was sat in a small basement flat in Hove on my own. Those moments down the beach were a haven to me. Other families would be catching the last of the sun too and there was so much laughter and joy. Sometimes my heart would ache a little as my family didn’t work out how I wanted it too and I didn’t have that person to share the joy of my girl with, but I did my best to stay present in that moment and not get lost in the “What ifs”. That was relatively easy to do as more often then not I would be wrestling stones out of Odetta’s mouth or convincing her that licking old seaweed isn’t the best idea.

One day on our way back from the beach when the little rat bag was lying on the floor refusing to move, I saw two women about to get into that freezing cold sea, dressed just in swimming costumes and bright swim caps. In that moment, when I was so engrossed in my motherhood journey, bribing my child with every snack I could find at the bottom of my bag, exhausted, close to tears, I imagined myself stepping into that water and it gave me a moment of freedom. I felt an energy burst inside of me and I made a promise to find someone who would be mad enough to swim with me.

Turns out that I didn’t have any friends crazy enough. Then someone told me of a swim group called the Salty Seabirds. I joined the Facebook group and saw posts from women all over Brighton and Hove organising different times to meet. Informal, you just show up in whatever state you are in and swim. So on the 10th of Feb I took my pale arse down to the sea, flask in my bag, wrapped in a big jumper and scarf.

The weekends are my weakness, as I hear they are for a lot of single mothers. I would message all of my friends to see who we could tag along with but they would be having family time with their partners who worked during the week (selfish bitches) Which is understandable (it’s not) so often those two days felt the loneliest. Sometimes I’d just wait and see who got sick of their partners first or wait for one of them to have a row (kind of a joke. kind of) but mostly I’d have to just get on with it. Then swimming entered my life and I could bribe a grandparent to have Odie or sometimes she would tag a long with me and moan the entire time about how much she hates everything that’s nice in the world, hence her nickname Edgar Allan O. As soon as I entered that freezing cold water, and yelped and screamed and swore at the top of my lungs, jumping over the waves, I finally felt freedom. Motherhood is beautiful, achingly so, but it’s also the hardest and loneliest journey a woman can take. The sea made me feel ok again, like I could do it, I could be a good mum and a happy woman and those two things could coexist again.

When you take that first gasp as you step into cold water, you remember why you are here. For moments like this. Swimming towards the sun or in rain or sometimes even snow. Your body adjusts and a creeping pink blushes your skin as an addictive sting starts at your toes and works its way up. I’ve laughed so hard I have filled my mouth with sea water, and I’ve washed away tears in the sea too. Children are always watching, and I feel proud my girl is watching her mama do something nourishing and wild. Without those women I swim with, without that sea, I would be a different woman and mother.

Author: Eloise

Note from Seabirds – Eloise has very strong opinions on the type of toppings that are acceptable in polite society to accompany a baked potato.

January doesn’t have to be Blue!

A guest blog by Salty Seabird Claudine – how to beat the blues whatever time of the year it is!

Guest blog by Salty Seabird Claudine

January, hey?  It gets a bad rap.  “New year, new you”, Dry January, Blue Monday.   Not much fun and joy contained in those words.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.

A couple of years ago when I first discovered the body positive movement, it became so much more than a transformation of how I see myself when I look in the mirror.  I did an exercise called “taking the blinkers off”, and it opened my eyes to the nonsense I’d been fed by the media for so long.  Not only the societal ideal of beauty which for the most part was airbrushed, unrealistic and certainly not what I was ever going to look like, but also to other media bias.  I mean, I had of course known about this and been somewhat mindful of what I chose to read and watch, but suddenly I saw through the lies I’d been blind to before.

One of them was about how depressing January is, and in particular the concept of Blue Monday, the third Monday of the year.  As well as being a song of my youth, it is a concept apparently made up by the travel industry to make people feel particularly low so they book a holiday to escape the grey drudgery of a British winter.  This is despite being “depressed” (obviously, some people actually suffering depression and others just feeling pretty down for a while) and having the Christmas bills coming in whilst waiting desperately for January pay day.

But it doesn’t have to be all bad, does it?  I have the joy of seeing my girl turn another year older each January, always scraping together a party for her after the madness of Christmas.  Although I haven’t made new year resolutions for years, I like to use the start of a fresh year to take stock, think about what’s happened over the last 12 months and give some thought to the 12 months ahead – how I want to be, and how I can achieve that.  And now for the second year, I’m looking forward to swimming (or at the very least dipping on the coldest of days) in some of the lowest water temperatures of the year.  It’s a pleasure to have something to look forward to through winter, and for us cold water lovers and to the confusion of the rest of the population, the colder the better.

 

At the event I curated for iSWIM, entitled Reclaim Blue Monday, we heard from a range of panellists and experts in cold water immersion and blue space.  The discussion was about why and how we benefit from this crazy (as some people see it), pastime of wild swimming, in terms of socially, physiologically, psychologically, spiritually and environmentally.  What does the sea give us; and in return, what can we give the sea?

We heard about the stimulation of both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, enabling us to cope better with stress – physically and mentally.  We heard about the transformative, connective and re-orientating power of a swim, especially a chilly one.  We heard about the power of awe, and how immersion in freezing water and being in nature contribute to positive wellbeing.  We heard of the value of the beach and the sea as a therapeutic landscape, and the idea that the more we use the ocean and gain some benefit from it, the more likely we are to care about its wellbeing and take action against water pollution.  It reminded me of the short film, Nature is Speaking, with Julia Roberts voicing “mother nature”, a powerful message about how nature doesn’t depend on us but we depend on it.  Nature has existed for billions of years before us, and will exist long after us, she will evolve no matter what our actions.  But we need to evolve as well if we want to carry on as a species.

All this means much more than the things we might be encouraged to do every new year: cutting out alcohol, stopping smoking, becoming fitter, faster and slimmer, or setting ourselves goals of achievement, smashing our PBs.  It means being mindful of what is around us, of separating the truly important things from those we are told to believe are important.  And for me, this begins in the sea.  It’s a place where I can be myself, get what I need, and take nothing away (apart from plastic I find on the beach).  The sea is a place I can feel free, forget the stresses of the day, week, month, and reset.

Every swim is different and gives me something the last one or the next one may not.  It could be a purely physical refresh, a wake up, a shock to the senses by the prickling of the cold water on my skin, bit by bit as I get in.  It could be the sense of achievement of getting in a bouncy sea, assessing from the shore when and where to get in, whether the waves are too big, how often they are breaking.  Watching the waves break with such power and force, working out where the shelf of the beach is, and how likely it is I’ll get “washing machined” by the shore break.   On these swims I barely notice the cold, too busy trying not to drown.  Once I’m in, I’ll enjoy the swim, but with a little part of me feeling anxious about how difficult it will be to get out, whether I’ll time it right or get knocked over by a wave, and pummelled by stones.

Once I’m out after a swim like this, I feel like I can take on the world!  Or it might be the conversation or uplifting support of fellow swimmers.  I’ve had such a vast range of conversations with people whilst bobbing along beside them, hearing and sharing such profound and personal stories with people I’ve just met, or sometimes sharing my own struggles and letting the overwhelm and anxiety wash away, with my tears, into the salty water.  Other times, it’s the hysterics of the after-drop, the not remembering exactly how to get dressed, the giggles about a risqué comment from another swimmer, or just the fits of laughter that come out of nowhere and are about nothing.

Whatever I get from a swim, whether it’s the things I consciously feel and think, and whatever unconsciously going on in my brain and my body, I always get something good.  Even on the very rare occasion I feel like it wasn’t much fun, I didn’t really enjoy it, felt rubbish as I went in and far from ecstatic coming out, and I got battered with wind and rain trying to get dressed, I’m still convinced I come out feeling better than if I hadn’t gone in.  It’s sometimes hard to put into words what I get from it.  But every time I get in, once I get over the breathlessness of cold shock, I find myself taking a deep inhale, and as I exhale, I always find myself saying, “ahh, that’s better”.  Discovering cold water swimming and meeting the incredible community of i-swimmers and seabirds has certainly cured anything blue about January for me.

Note on the Author; The life-changing film Embrace is being screened again by BoPoFitCo – Christine Chessman and Claudine Nightingill-Rane – a body image coaching duo from Hove. For both of us, and for many more who have seen our previous screenings, it has been a catalyst for a hugely positive change in the way we see ourselves, treat ourselves and the work we do to help others do the same

Sometimes a Seabird needs Grounding

How the sea can set you free from negative thoughts and feelings

Not literally – you can’t clip a seabirds wings and stop it from swimming – but grounding is a technique used to focus on what is happening in the present moment. And we all need that once in a while.

Rumination is my usual state of mind.  It causes me sleepless nights and anxious days,  thinking about things I cannot solve but also cannot accept. I focus on the past and problems rather than the present.  My solution for rumination is grounding.  I need to be bought back to the moment. Sea swimming does this for me

Grounding is a technique that can be used to distract you from negative emotions or challenges. We can use things in our physical environment to do this as way of redirecting our thoughts. The seascape and immersing yourself in the sea is a really good way of doing this.

Being in or around the sea is an absolute assault on the senses so works really well as an environment for grounding. In fact you can ground yourself without actually realising that you are doing it. Your senses focus on everything around you leaving little room for rumination and anxious thoughts.

Part of grounding is not just focusing on something physical but touching something, a tangible object. And what could be better than a large body of water. I love how the seascape changes everyday depending on the sea, weather and tide conditions. I love the changing colour of the sea and sky and have begun to consider different names for them/. A Seabirds colour wheel. I focus on my hands as they glide through the water and provide a perspective on the shade and tone. I have been known to base my decision to swim or not to swim on the colour of the sea. Focusing on my surroundings grounds me.

Against all good safety advice, I enter the water swiftly. Normally because I need a wee (I always need a wee) but also because by nature I am quick to act. It stops me from hesitating and procrastinating at the waters edge – which is just another variant of rumination! My routine is to then take a few head in strokes and flip onto my back to float once well clear of the break line.

Floating as a physical form of grounding is incredible in so many ways. When you enter cold water, particularly when you do it quickly, your breath is literally taken away and you can find yourself gasping for breath. Lying on my back, I am able to regulate my breathing with either deep diaphragmatic breaths, singing (in my head or out loud) and counting. I am present in my breathing. Once my breath regulates I take time to consider how the water feels. Which direction s the current going in so I can decide which direction to swim in. How choppy is it so I can consider which way to breathe or do head out breast stroke. How cold does it feel on my skin and is the burn subsiding. Although the temperature can remain static for weeks on end, how I am feeling mentally and physically changes all the time impacting my ability to cope with cold water. Floating allows me to take stock of this before I venture too far from shore.

Getting in the water is not at simple as it sounds, particularly when faced with a steep shingle shelf. You have to focus on the waves, their size and speed and search for a lull to enter. All done on a floor of shifting shingle whilst you trying to maintain your balance and muster up the courage needed to plunge into cold water. At certain tides,you feel with your shuffling feet for the soft sand that you know you will eventually find making staying on your feet more likely. It’s the same when you are getting out, head swinging from shore to sea to decide when to swim and run like Billy-O. There is no room in your brain to worry about anything else.

Once swimming, I find that moving my body, in long purposeful strokes is a distraction from the day to day. Challenging my arms to ignore the muscle memory of my inefficient stroke and consider my body position in the water. I almost enter a hypnotic state as I count my strokes. Keeping on eye on my direction, location and proximity to other swimmers and shore also keeps my mind occupied. When the water is clear you can use the sand lines to find your way home, swimming through them horizontally until you hit shingle. Then listening to the shingle roar grow louder as the water grows shallower indicating when it is time to stand up. (or do a handstand!)

As well as physical grounding techniques there are also mental ones. Most of them are not intended to prevent rumination but to ensure I have a joyful swim. There are preparations to be made when you go for a sea swim in Brighton. You can’t just grab and towel and jump in. Well you can but it is not advisable. Where and when we swim is dictated by the tides and conditions so being able to read various complicated apps becomes a girl guide badge mission. Once on the beach,  a review of your swim area also helps you focus on the here and now.  Are there other beach/sea users, where are your safe entry and exit points, are your clothes lined up ready to be quickly pulled over your head post swim. Do you have your underwear and is it wrapped in a hot water bottle! All of this occupies your mind so your anxious thoughts can’t.

In all of these ways and many more the sea provides a way for me to manage my negative thoughts and feelings. The sea, as a brilliant oxymoron, can ground you! The sea sets me free!

Author: Seabird Kath

 

 

 

 

The Anthropology of Salty Ornithology

How does community connect in the modern world? By Social Media and Swimming!

As a social introvert I am fascinated by human interaction. Envious of those that seemingly find conversation and connection easy.  Over the festive period the Salty Seabird flock grew to record numbers but I am not always able to face new faces. I observed from afar (social media screen) but was still able to share in their joy and happiness at experiencing a cold water sea swim. I still felt part of the flock.

Being part of a community is not a new thing. Nor is swimming in the sea. But doing it as a community activity arranged via social media is. But what fundamental components of being part of a community remain unchanged?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a Community is; a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common. The internet and social media platforms have meant that I can watch someone else’s swim live, from the comfort of my own home. Watching their face erupt into a smile, breathe in the beautiful scenery and converse with them via comments. It’s not that same as actually being there. Only two of your senses are engaged and there is no real replacement for physical presence but I do still feel part of a community, albeit virtually. We don’t necessarily live in the same place but we do live in the same space.

We also have a particular characteristic in common. The Outdoor Swimming Society have claimed the characteristic ‘stoic’ for the virtual Zeno’s Swim Club. The ability to just keep going – or in this case just keep swimming.  This is true of my local Salty Seabird community and my virtual outdoor swimming community. The impact cold water immersion has on our physical and mental health, has been researched and written about, both anecdotally and academically.  What we all seem to agree on is that in that moment, in the water, we have escaped the day to day. We know it will be there once we’ve dried off but we will be better equipped to deal with it. We are testing our resilience. Why would you enter freezing water willingly? Its takes your breath away and it burns your limbs. Because, you know, once you’ve had a swim you will feel like you can keep going.

I have talked and written at length about the sense of connection I experience from swimming with a group. In a fragmented world, and during times of austerity, the need for connection and community has never been more necessary. The Salty Seabirds have grown from a few to the many, some I have never met, some have names I don’t know, some swim in different spots, some swim long distances and some dip. But I am connected to them. Connected by the shared need for respite and rest and the ability to find it by the sea. Connected by sharing cake and tea post swim. Connected by a rediscovery of childlike joy and the ability to play in the water. For me, connection is at the heart of the community.

Recently the Salty Seabird community has demonstrated the strength of the connection at its heart.  A new Salty wanted to raise some funds for a paediatric study into treatment for Alkaptonuria, the genetic condition her son has. So she posted a call to arms for swimmers join her swimming in the sea through the 12 days of Christmas. The response was overwhelming with incredible numbers of swimmers joining her on a daily basis, donating and sharing the fundraiser. This community, didn’t know her, or her son, when she asked for support, but because a bunch of people have a sense of belonging or connection they answered her call.

Connection is prevalent throughout the virtual outdoor swimming community just as much as it is locally. ‘Tits to the Wind’ organised by 3 wild swimmers via social media was supported by swimmers the length and breadth of the country. The idea was to swim topless and raise money for Mind a mental health charity and raise awareness for Coppafeel which encourages people to check for lumps to ensure early diagnosis of breast cancer. Instagram was full of wonderful images of people exposing their “Tits to the Wind” and sharing the experience. All the topless swimmers are alike in some way, they feel a sense of belonging with each other even though they’ve never met.

Whenever Lindsey ‘Stompy’ Cole puts a shout out for people to join her for a swim or for a bed for the night she is never disappointed. In 2018 she swam the length of River Thames as  mermaid to raise awareness of plastic pollution. Since then she has cycled and swum around the UK instantly recognisable by her infectious grin. Again, via social media, she posts shout outs for swim buddies and place to stay which are answered by the supportive  community she is part of.

Lindsey is not the only one to swim with strangers. Salties join us from all over the world to experience the sea on the South Coast of England. In addition to the wild swimmers individual and group social media accounts, there is a Wild Swim Map and the Outdoor Society FB group. So many way for swimmers to connect with one another. Whenever I go on my holidays I will find a local swimmer or group to swim with. And you know that when you do eventually make it to that waterfall, lake, tarn, you will be made to feel very welcome and very much part of that local community.

The Oxford English Dictionary goes on to say; the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common. Again by wild swimming virtual connections when posted words or an image resonate you instantly feel part of a community. I frequently comment on other people’s posts and have regular dialogue with people I have never met, but I know they are my people. Some of these may be sea swimmers local to Brighton and Hove, who swim in the same spots as me yet we have not met. Some of these sea swimmers may in fact be part of the same Salty Seabird community group but we are yet to swim at the same time and place. This is the beauty of these leaderless, self-regulating communities glued together by sharing the swim love.

Watching my own community of Salty Seabirds thrive brings me joy on a daily basis. Every week new swimmers join us, entering the sea as strangers and leaving the beach as friends.. The local connection of community is incredible. We’ve had single Salties spend Christmas day together. Poorly Salties spend their birthdays on the beach with us even when they are too ill to swim. They fundraise and volunteer for Seabirds, provide lifts to Shoreham Port, swap stories, give warm welcome and advice to new swimmers…….the list goes on. They are the salt of the earth – or in this case salt of the sea.

This is what community looks like – it hasn’t changed – just the way we connect has.