A pictures tells a thousand words

Thing you don’t know about this picture. One of the women only met the other three, 10 minutes earlier!

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Things that can be said of this picture; This picture is clever. This picture invokes a reaction. This picture has a beautiful backdrop of Brighton beach. This picture is of 4 women. This picture was shared on Social Media.

Thing you don’t know about this picture. One of the women only met the other three, 10 minutes earlier!

This picture was liked on the Outdoor Swimming Society page 1.8K times. I think we can safely say these women are comfortable in their own skin. It was shared on Valentines Day – the day of love. We did it because we love swimming in the sea. But I think you will like it more when you know the story behind the shot.

The ‘L‘ is Catherine. Catherine is one of the Salty Seabird Founders. Once her husband was the only sea swimmer in the family. He is a member of Brighton Swimming Club, the oldest Swimming Club in the UK and has a graceful and hypnotic technique. Over the last few years Catherine’s confidence in the sea has grown to a level that matches her husband’s. She can be fast and fierce in the water and now they can swim together. No longer is she sidelined on the shore weighed down by the label of “non-sporty”. She now doesn’t give pictures of her in a swim suit, shared on social media, a second thought, Such has her relationship with her body changed since swimming in the sea, she takes pride in her strong body. She has a smile that makes any Salty Seabird swimmer, old or new, feel very welcome. She is definitely the L in Love.

Sam is the ‘V‘. Appropriate because she gives a good two finger salute to the pressures placed on women by society. She has a quiet strength and is up for pretty much anything. Or is that actually anything? I am not sure I have heard her turn down a challenge yet.Β  We met Sam at the end of August in the sea after a Swim Talk hosted Sea Lanes. She had no cossie so striped down to her bare skin and ran in. We’ve been swimming together ever since and she has become an integral part of the Salty Seabirds. Like Catherine, she is naturally inclusive, welcoming and warm. This shot was her idea.

Suzi is the letter ‘O’. None of us had ever met Suzi before this photo was taken. She turned up on the beach dragging a hard shell suitcase on wheels across the shingle in a neoprene wetsuit, hat, gloves and boots and enquired whether we were the Salty Seabirds. There were other birds there that day that had been swimming with us for months but Suzi readily volunteered to contort her body into the O without question.

The last letter ‘E’ is me. The one with the big pebble digging into my bum. It took a lot of direction to get that shape right. Not one for listening to direction from others naturally………………

What you don’t know about this photo is that the women in it are different but the same. What brings them to the beach differs, their reasons for swimming in the sea are the same. The strength of bond and camaraderie amongst the outdoor swimming society can only be described as love. The non judgemental acceptance of others is love. The quiet admiration of strength over adversity is love. The sharing of space in silence is love. The untamed guttural laughter is love. The protective togetherness is love. We are all looking for this love and here, amongst our fellow sea swimmers, we have found it.

We may have only met that day, that month, that year but we will always share the swim love. These are the words behind the picture.

Author: Seabird Kath

NB: We later went went on to create another picture spelling out a word in direct response to the Guardian article entitled ” Me and my vulva: 100 women reveal all”. A man named Paul Bullen replied to the news article on Twitter telling them “The correct word is vagina”. This caused a huge response from mainly women explaining that the vagina and vulva are two very different things, but instead of apologising or retracting his comment he began mansplaining to women about their own genitalia. You couldn’t make it up!

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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.

Monarch of the Glen – Swimming with a Laird

When one kid leaves another one comes along. As my daughter Libby boarded the plane home from our swims in the lake District, my son Archie, arrived with his dad for our Scottish adventure.

Archie wasn’t enamoured with the idea of a holiday in the middle of no-where with no network and no WiFi. The salt in the wound, was that his big sister was escaping this fate to go hang out with her friends back home. Something he was intent on not letting us forget.

Archie has a difficult friendship group. He doesn’t always help himself as he reacts spectacularly to anything he sees as unjust or unfair. So he is an easy target for some of the group members and can be purposefully excluded from activities which plays itself out in the very public domain of social media group chats. We limit his xbox time and do not allow him to have 18 rated games which in the world of liberal parenting makes him a social pariah. His social struggles add to his anxiety which he hides with bravado to the outside world only to melt down in the safe confines of the home. We are more than aware that as he navigates Year 9, and testosterone kicks in varying rates amongst his mates, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Our solution to Archie’s social struggles is family down time, which in the summer was a holiday in Scotland with no electronics. We chose Scotland as we have been promising to visit an old university friend who settled there over 20 years ago and because Archie is a Laird and owns some land there. He was gifted the land for his thirteenth birthday as a tongue in cheek gesture. Archie has a few self entitlement tendencies so a Title seemed a fitting birthday present.

When we arrived in Alba, we stayed in Balquidder at our friend Gary’s house which has a river running through the back garden. After arriving at night, in the dark, we woke to the most beautiful view and were soon inflating our stand up paddle board (SUP) and pulling on our swimmers. The water level was low because the endless hot summer even reached north of the border. But it was still deep enough to jump into which the dog did before we had even shut the back door. We were not far behind using wooden steps in the bank to jump onto a chain ferry which you could then dive off. Archie paddled but wasn’t keen to get in the icy trout filled water. Instead he set sail on the paddle board, accompanied by the dog to see if he could make it to the next village. In the afternoon Gary got out his angling gear and taught Archie how to fish. A whole day of no gadgets and no melt downs.

That evening we travelled to a house on the banks of Loch Venachar to stay for a few days. Before I had even unpacked the car, Archie and his dad had found some bikes and headed off to explore the local area scouting for swim spots. They found Loch Achray and Loch Drunkie before it got dark. Every evening before dinner and after a days exploring we would swim and SUP in the loch across the road with Ben Finglas as our back drop. Very different to the salty sea I am used to, the water was dark and foreboding but really fresh. It was almost a metallic orange in colour giving you a swimmers tan in the water. Archie still opted for the SUP over a swim but the water was still working it’s magic and he was relaxed and happy. A few more days of no gadgets and no melt downs.

My favourite day was when we travelled to Glencoe and onto Glen Nevis. Archie’s land is part of a conservation project. The idea is you buy a plot of land and the money raised from the sale is used to return the land to it’s original natural state. The big pines trees you see on the side of mountains have been purposefully planted and are killing the soil and changing the ecosystem. So we spent some time in Glencoe Woods with a GPS device trying to locate the Laird’s land…..which we did.

We travelled onto Glen Nevis in search of a Steal Falls to swim in. We walked for miles on the hottest day of the year (it was even hot in Scotland) through the Nevis Gorge with large rucksacks full of food, drink and most importantly swim suits. Words cannot describe how beautiful it was. I honestly think it is the most beautiful place I have ever been. Definitely the most beautiful spot I have ever swum in. The water was crystal clear and cold. The kind of cold you only get when the water has come from the highest peak in the British Isles. Waterfalls, gullies, plunge pools, stepping stones, it was the stuff of fairy tales. And we practically had it all to ourselves as we chose the path less trodden on the opposite side of the glen.

But it wasn’t the beauty that made it my favourite day, it was Archie. He didn’t moan once on the long, sometimes difficult climb along the gorge. He ran ahead constantly looking for safe spots to get in the the rapidly running glen. He only stopped when the dog got stuck in a peat bog!

And Archie finally got in. Allowing his dad and I to go first we jumped off a rock into a deep pool. With lots of encouragement he did a tandem jump with the dog. As his head appeared back above the water, a huge smile took over his whole face. He struggled to breath not because of the cold water shock, but because he was giggling so much. The giggles continue when he realised he couldn’t clamber back up the rock to get out and the current took him down stream. Another day of no gadgets and no melt downs.

We cannot cocoon our kids from the outside world. But we can give them a chance to relax and re-calibrate away from scrolling screens. Swimming is my sanctuary and in Scotland it was my son’s.

Author: Seabird Kath

Swimming with my Sister

My love of swimming in the sea was cultivated from a young age. I spent every school holiday, even the cold winter ones, in a converted railway carriage on Selsey’s East Beach. It was the stuff of Enid Blyton books. Sea swimming numerous times a day, camping out in haystacks, racing the Lifeboat maroon onto the beach and cycling on an array of Rand Hand Gang bikes for miles on the flat reclaimed land. All of this I shared with my brother, foster siblings, cousins, new friends (now firmly established as old friends) and my little sister. With only 2 years between us in age no matter how much I tried to shake her, there was always my younger sister! In her orange towelling bathing suit.

She was ever present in the sea with me. If there was a summer thunder storm at night we would be allowed to get out of bed to jump into the sea to watch the fork lightning display floating on our backs. (It was the 1970s there was no H&S). We perfected our jumping and diving at high tide off the breakwaters into the depths that the long shore drift had created. We created flotillas of rubber dinghies, washed up crabbing pots and floats and old rowing boats and set sail into low tide lagoons.

With exactly the same upbringing and childhood experiences it has always fascinated me how we grew into such different adults. She is always well turned out and I look like something the cat dragged in. She has incredible patience with people, probably due to working as a nurse for 25 years, and I, diplomatically put, do not. She is able to cope with blood and gore while I am firmly hidden behind the cushion. I get in the sea all year round and she, even on on a summers day does not. But she did. She just doesn’t anymore.

The family holidays of the 1970s and 80s on the Sussex coast have been replaced with annual family celebration holidays. If there is an 0 or a 5 at the end of your birthday year you are expected to find a big house, by the sea, and invite siblings, parents, children, aunts, cousins and dogs to join you. This year it was Dad’s 75th and we headed off to Bude at Easter. I packed my swim suit, my sister did not.

What is not outwardly apparent is that behind my sisters immaculate appearance and organised life she has more than most to deal with. Her youngest daughter Emily has been refusing to go to school for most of her time at senior school. She is now in year 10 and they have lived with school refusal for 3 years. My sister works for the NHS and is like a blood hound when it comes to getting answers but even with that on her side she is no closer to a resolution. I could go on and on about the lack of services available, scarce school funding, female autism going un-diagnosed, acute anxiety, daily melt downs but you get the picture. Life is incredibly hard for my sister and my niece. With that in mind I planned to get Emily in the sea. This I knew would be relatively easy as she loves the sea. It calms her and gives her overworked brain a rest. She swims with me at Grandma Seaside’s on the Isle of Wight and this time in Cornwall her cousin and uncle were going to teach her how to surf. We bought spare wet suits, gloves, boots, robes with us and Emily packed her swimsuit.

So during the holiday, Emily headed into the sea at Widemouth bay and had some foamie fun in the white water. My sister watched from the beach, every present, ever anxious. She doesn’t like the cold water and the waves fill her with dread. Yet here she was watching her daughter, entrusting her to her cousin, having fun. Knowing she had to sideline her own anxiety to allow Emily some respite. Later I went in for a skin swim with my sister-in-law, in the waves, to the amazement of neoprene clad on lookers and again my sister looked on. Same seventies upbringing in the sea but she couldn’t bring herself to get in. To be honest it didn’t even cross my mind to ask her if she wanted to join us as I assumed the answer would be a firm no. And she hadn’t packed her swimsuit.

The holiday house was full, all week, with wet-suits, towels, swimsuits drying on every available radiator and hook. Talk was invariably about swimming, surf spots and surf reports. Post sea highs where shared around the fire with steaming mugs of post sea tea. The highlight of the week was that my husband and niece were going to join me for a swim in the iconic Bude Tide Pool. The surprise of the week was when my sister announced she’d like to join us too! Now to find her a swimsuit.

I often wonder what made her decide to come for a cold water skin swim that day. I think it was because she could see how much it does for my mental health and for her daughters. Perhaps she was curious about the post swim happiness high and whether it too would be some respite for her. Maybe it was good old fashioned sibling rivalry. The Tide pool has sides and a way to get in safely with no crashing waves. It also has changing rooms so that you don’t have to struggle on the sand to get your knickers on. For her the perfect conditions. So she borrowed by daughters swimsuit, refused neoprene but donned various rash-vests, gloves and boots. She questioned why she was doing it over and over again on the way there but didn’t turn back.

We talked a lot about cold water shock and what she should expect when she got in the water. It was March when the sea is at it coldest. I got in first and showed her how I floated on my back and controlled by breathing. She attempted to get in a few times and needed a bit of coaxing but eventually she took the plunge. You could see by her face she was trying really hard to control her breath so we sang. We swam and and we sang and slowly she was able to talk and regulate her breathing and we took a gentle breast stroke turn around the pool. And we were transported back to the 1970s when we regularly swam in the sea together. She was able to forget about life’s daily challenges for a few precious minutes and was so chuffed with herself that she had done it her happiness was infectious. For those few precious minutes she was back in her orange towelling swimsuit with no inhibitions, self consciousness or anxieties.

As a regular outdoor swimmer I am asked all the time if I have a favourite swim. Well this was it. It was the best swim ever. I have swum in the beautiful Glens of Scotland, Tarns in the Lake District, Rivers in the Somerset levels but I never thought I’d see the day when I would share the sea with my sister again. There was no thunder storm, breakwater jumping or dinghies but I did share the sea with my sister again. And it was the best! And now when she holidays in the UK she packs her swimsuit. My sister is a Seabird.

Author: Kath Seabird