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………

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The question everyone asks about Cold Water Swimming…..

People always ask me how cold the water is. I don’t know and don’t care….or do I?

Some people ask how to acclimatise to cold water swimming. Others ask how to warm up afterwards and beat the after drop. There are lots of technical questions about various pieces of kit, where it is safe to swim and how long you should stay in for. Cold water Swimming is of the moment and there are lots of people taking to the water to improve their mental and physical health which invariably begs the question how is it good for you. BUT the question that is ALWAYS asked without fail is “What’s the water temperature?” (Normally asked by people who don’t even swim in warmer months so I am always left a bit unsure as to why they have asked!)

And do you know what? I have no bloody idea and I don’t bloomin’ care. Or do I?

The Outdoor Swimming community is growing and so is it’s presence on Social Media. My feed is full of the most beautiful photographs of idyllic wild swims. But it is also full of  photos of the thermometers. The colder it gets the more I get! There are discussions on the best thermometer to use to measure the temperature of the water. My ‘lick my finger and hold it in the air’ thermometer does not measure the temperature in degrees Celsius or Fahrenheit. In the summer the sea can be as warm as a bath, my internal thermometer measures this as ‘barmy bathing’. In the winter it is cold enough to take your breath away, which shows on my internal thermometer as ‘bloody baltic’ . Anything below 5 degrees requires a profanity and is as ‘f@?$ing freezing’.  In the winter you would think our flock would migrate to warmer climes but in fact as we drop out of double digit sea temperatures our numbers increase as locals look to improve their wellbeing by partaking in cold water swimming.

It is hard to actually measure the temperature of the sea in Brighton.  In the summer, Brighton’s Beach Lifeguard Posts and year round, Brighton Sea Swimming Club regularly display the temperature of the sea on beach front boards. But it doesn’t always reflect how the water actually feels. The energy of a ground or wind swell that create waves and chop can make it feel a couple of degrees warmer.  Underground fresh water streams empty into the sea all along the seafront which causes the temperature to vary considerably. If there has been significant rainfall the river Wellesbourne increases the cold freshwater entering the sea at Poole Valley. Even in the summer months you can find yourself in a really cold spot.

This is my second winter of skin swimming. Last year felt much colder and seemed much harder. There are lots of reasons why this may be the case. i) I have a significantly larger layer of brown fat! ii) I have an ever encouraging wonderful flock of Seabirds to swim with making the whole experience easier, iii) I have spent a ton on money on kit for warming up afterwards, iv) I am much more in tune with my senses and know exactly when to get out pre swim shakes. OR is the sea just warmer than last year?

For the majority of the Salty Seabirds, this year marks their first year swimming in the sea year round. They have been told tales of the 2018 Beast from the East and have been longing to swim in sub 5 degree temperatures. We have enticed them with stories of how cold it gets in March only for false Spring to arrive and temperatures almost reached double digits again (according to my internal thermometer). Many have researched the effects of cold water swimming on mental and physical wellbeing and are chasing the elusive cold water cure. Adaptations like duck diving, wave jumping and full stroke with head in, are made to ensure that vagus nerve gets the shock it needs. Fortunately being with the flock can also make you smile on a bad day whatever the water temperature.

Although rivers and lakes are significantly colder than the sea and the further north you go, the colder it gets, I wonder if they have experienced warmer water this year. The Scilly Isles haven’t left double digits but I do not know if this is their norm. We have fresh water field trips in the pipeline – The Seabird Sussex Swimble Series – over the coming months to ensure our junkie habit is fed as the sea temperatures increase. We are looking for our skin to burn, our breath to be taken away, our fingers to fumble and for the post swim high to last all day! As long as this happens I do not care what a Seabirds watch, baby’s duck thermometer or aquarium thermometer say the temperature is. As long as I squeal as I get in, shake as I get out and share the swim love, I am a happy Seabird!

Author: Seabird Kath

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 💖💖💖

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.

New Year. New Me?

Sometimes I struggle to be a balanced Seabird and focus on the measure rather than the pleasure

My Social Media streams are full of Dry January, Vegan January, Red January, 2019 goals and challenges. Whilst I doff my cap to anyone that has taken the time to reflect and decided to make positive changes it is still something I struggle with.

The bit I struggle with is the balance. For me, when I really focus on improving something, pretty much everything else falls by the wayside. My struggle isn’t that I won’t stick to my goals or step up to the challenge, it is that I will do it at the detriment to everything else. And it may not actually make me happy.  (See previous blog; to swim or to gym?)

In 2018, I made a very conscious decision to focus on my mental health. But this has been  at the detriment to my physical health.  I ended the year over a stone heavier, drinking wine most nights and doing very little physical activity other that strolling with the dog and getting changed quickly to beat the sea swim after drop. I am not body shaming myself, far from it, but the midriff insulation was due to the alcohol consumption and lack of cardio exercise, so not a healthy weight change. I am lucky to have masses of body confidence so it never prevented me from slipping on a swim suit in public. But the sea swims became a way to clear the booze fuzz rather than the busy life buzz. A way to wake me up after a wine soaked sleep that is never the desired deep sleep that repairs and restores us. I’d achieved my goal to swim myself happy but at what cost. Imbalance again!

So I have jumped on the New Years Resolution train and am searching for the elusive swim gym balance again! Different year, same story…..so hardly a New Year, New Me! Undeterred, my plan is to try and balance booze, sweat and swims. So I have stopped drinking alcohol at home, entered a few swim events and completed my first parkrun. Hopefully a more balanced me rather than a new me.

The push to enter a swim event was to spend time with my teenage daughter who has her own life and very little free time now. So when she had to cut short our trip to the Lakes in the summer I decided to enter us both in the The Big Bala Swim to ensure we still make time to swim together. I then looked at pretty much every other swim event across the UK looking at dates and times and seeing how many I could cram in. After entering another two, The River Arun 3.8km and the Hever Castle 2.5km swim, alarm bells started to ring. I was in danger of losing the balance of swimming for pleasure as well as the measure, and had spent a small fortune on entry fees.

So I stopped and my only other swim ‘events’ this year will be moon gazey, sunrise, river field trip swims with the Salty Seabirds. A balance of pool plodding for the measure  and sea bobbing for the pleasure is the aim for 2019. Seabird Sam uses the hashtag #swimforthewin, and what she means by this is swimming outdoors, embracing your surroundings and being in the moment. Not entering lots of events to swim as fast as you can. I need to be a bit more Sam sometimes.

The push to do a parkrun was after a discussion with Seabird Clare (Race Director of Hove Promenade parkrun) on the synergies between parkrun and Salty Seabirds. Both are totally inclusive and free to participate. Both running, swimming and being outdoors has well documented physical and mental health benefits. The idea was to encourage some Salty Seabirds to do the parkrun and some parkrunners to come for a swim in the sea when the weather gets warmer. I decided to try out a run and cool down swim and threw the invitation open to any other Seabirds that wanted to join me. The response was great. Many of the Seabirds are already parkrunners or were looking for a regular weekend swim.

So I did my first parkrun last weekend. It was great. A really well organised weekly ‘event’ that has gone global. The whole thing is run by volunteers and anyone can join in, even walkers. There is a volunteer each week whose job it is to come last. As I started to run I was cheered on by some of the volunteers shouting ‘ Go Seabird’ . (We are easy to spot in our bobble hats.) Upon hearing this shout, a runner behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked ‘ are you a Seabird?’ Runner Rachel had heard about the Salty Seabirds and joined our closed Facebook page to see what we were all about. She’d seen my shout out for people to join me at parkrun for a run and a swim and decided to join us for the run. Having never met her before we spent the next 30 minutes chatting the whole way round the course. Only stopping when we spotted a Seabird hat of another runner and waved or shouted hello. Another synergy with Seabird swims – starting an activity as strangers and leaving as friends. When we had finished we jumped in the sea where other non-running Seabirds joined us. The perfect cool down.

I was a runner in a former life and have a couple of marathon medals. I trained hard whilst working full time with two small children and a husband that worked away a lot. Weekends were taken up with long trails over the South Downs and evenings filled with research on new routes, fuel filled diets and running shoes. The imbalance was very present. Interestingly, I never timed my runs but I did measure the distance and walking, even when injured, was never an option. I never owned a snazzy smart watch that told me how many minute miles I did and Strava hadn’t been invented then. I used the sea to cool down and would often walk up to my waist into the water in my running tights to sooth (numb) my aching muscles. Now, If I am strapped for time I may run with dog, but with no events entered or specific goal or challenge I just kinda stopped running.

The parkrun appears to be the perfect balance of one run a week over a short distance that I can improve at over time. It is on a Saturday morning starting the weekend in a really positive way with a run and a swim. I say appears as I have already bought new running tights and trainers and stripped 9 places of last weeks finishing position. But I haven’t entered any events…..yet. With no one to chat to this week I ran faster but didn’t enjoy it quite so much. As with my swimming I need to balance the measure and pleasure. Last weeks running partner Rachel was super chill and happy to chat. I need to be a bit more Rachel sometimes.

So, it’s the old me entering 2019, the old me entering events but it is the new me knowing when to stop and just float. It is the balance that will keep me buoyant. A healthy mix of both measure and pleasure in both swimming and running. If you see me signing up to Strava….stop me!

Author: Seabirds Kath

Footnote: Running bird Ostrich can out run a horse and can reach top speeds of 70 km/ph (That’s 43mph in old money)

Running bird Kath cannot.

 

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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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

cold water hack

 

Author: Seabird Catherine