How do you get in?

With the rise in popularity of Cold Water Swimming, how do you get in?

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The sea is a force amongst the Salty Seabirds that brings us together. We share a love of cold water swimming and as such our shared experiences of joy, respite and faffing is what notably makes us the same. But we all get in the sea differently.

We noticed this when we swam to the east of the Palace Pier to have a morning of celebration in the Beach Box Sauna and cold sea as we introduced some new Seabirds to our swimming pod.

Patrick McLennan, is the the co-director  of a new documentary called The Ponds, about Hampstead Heath Ponds. In a recent article written for the Guardian by Tim Lewis McLennan explains “Outdoor swimmers tend to divide into “divers” and “creepers”, with the latter group easing themselves into the water more gradually. There are also “tea-baggers”: people who jump in and get straight out.”

When the Salty Seabirds visited the Ladies Pond last year we were definitely divers as the jetty and steps only allowed for that form of entry. How we get in the sea on Brighton’s beaches, all depends on the conditions and state of the tide. If the tide is high you have no choice but to submerge yourself at speed as after three steps and you are out of your depth on our steep shingle. However, the length of time you faff,  get changed or observe your swim area can vary considerably. At low tide, particularly a spring tide, you maybe walking for what feels like miles across sand to get anywhere near swimming depth taking gradual acclimatisation to the extreme!

Outdoor Swimming Coach, Rowan Clarke has the funniest video parody on her Instagram account that charts the 10 ways people get in. When I watched it I associated each type of entering the water with  Salty Seabirds. The types are;

  1. Just Get On With Itthis is definitely me
  2. Faffthis is a favourite amongst the Salty Seabird flock – our super power is forgetfulness and changing bags are emptied and repacked quite a few times on the beach before we realise the swimming hat we are looking for is on our head
  3. Inch by Inchmany a fledgling Seabird starts off this way, but after a few dips and possibly an encounter with Brighton’s infamous shore dump, they soon join the rest of the formation and get in as quickly as they can.
  4. Swearyep lots of it. In fact the swearing normally starts with the faffing and just continues into the water. Swearing helps you to regulate your breathing – FACT
  5. Huff and PuffI love chatting to the Seabirds that huff and puff as they get in as they are completely unable to talk back and I get the opportunity to waffle on uninterrupted. 
  6. ScreamYep again and lots of it. It is a Seabirds primal call to nature
  7. Splash and SlapI am yet to spot a Seabird doing this but the more serious swimmers that migrate for the winter and return in the summer have been known to partake in this activity. On a serious note, it is a good way to acclimatise before a distance swim.
  8. Heads Up – So last year! Once we’d listened to Dr Mark Harper’s informative talk on the Health Benefits of Cold water Swimming hosted by iSWIM we have all been obsessed with stimulating our vagus nerve and stick our heads in as much as the ice cream brain will allow.
  9. Recklessly – definitely a ‘don’t do this at home kids’. Unfortunately as a tourist city by the sea the Seabirds often witness people making poor choices. We don’t and move to safe swim spots when it’s stormy or just wave bathe on the shingle shoreline known locally as “pilcharding”.
  10. Just Don’tthis applies to lots of our family members so we have created a new swimming family that ‘Just Do’

Whatever the time of year, outdoor water temperatures in the UK are cold. Even if you are wearing a wet-suit you will be susceptible to ‘Cold Water Shock’. Your breathing speeds up along with your heart rate and blood pressure – which in itself can lead to panic and gasping. The secret to over coming the cold water shock is to swim often and resist the urge to panic. The Outdoor Swimming Society has tips for cold water immersion written by the late great Lynne Roper of Wild Woman Swimming fame. She writes ‘ Much of the acclimatisation process is mental – knowing the moment of immersion will feel cold, and embracing it anyway.’ The RNLI ‘Float to Live’ campaign is aimed at people falling into the sea in British and Irish waters where the average temperature is 12-15 degrees. Low enough to cause cold water shock. The campaign promotes the lifesaving technique of fighting your instinct to swim until the cold water shock passes.

I have a unique style of entering the water. I am what Patrick McLennon would refer to as a ‘diver’ and Rowan Clarke a ‘just get on with it’.  But the first thing I do, after getting in quickly, is to roll onto my back and just float. It’s not a conscious considered decision based on my lifesaving training or an attempt to be in the moment with nature. It’s just something I do without thinking. What it does do is allow me to relax and my breathing has time to regulate without plunging my head through waves or respond to the physical activity of purposeful swim strokes. The urge to start swimming soon arrives as I realise I need to move to keep warm.

However you get in – do it safely and JUST KEEP SWIMMING…….and eat cake afterwards. Copious amounts of cake.

Scribe: Seabird Kath

Footnote: An Our Screen Viewing of The Ponds is scheduled in Brighton on Thursday 28th February at 20:30 but has SOLD OUT!

Finding my inner Mermaid

Guest Blog by Amy. Beautiful honesty, a true Seabird

Guest Article by Salty Seabird Amy

I first started sea swimming in 2013 when I dipped my toe into the world of triathlon. I’d run a few marathons and had my eye on completing an Ironman for my 30th birthday (because that’s what you do for your 30th right?!). I got into the water, and HATED it! Running was always my strength, I was OK on a bike but swimming, swimming was my absolute nemesis. I had never learnt properly as a child and despite hours and hours in a pool I just didn’t seem to get any faster or better. Despite loving being in the water I never found the love of chasing a time or covering distance. I just never felt good enough despite my desperate attempts to become the mermaid I knew I was inside.

After Ironman I carried on swimming despite my complaining, not wanting to lose the hard work I’d put in to my swimming fitness. I even entered some long distance events including the Dart 10k and swam round Comino Island in Malta. I wanted to be the streamlined graceful dolphins that seemed to be part of every group I swam with, but I still just never felt like I found my inner mermaid.

 

Fast forward to 2017 and all thoughts of sporting events disappeared as I started to suffer with my mental health. Throughout 2018 I fell into a black hole where I didn’t want to live anymore and was hospitalised twice consumed by the hideous monster that is depression. Running had in the past been my salvation, but even the enjoyment of my favourite trails wasn’t improving my mental health and so I looked to the water.

It was during this time that I started just going in the sea for fun. I have some amazing, caring friends who would literally drag me out of bed and off onto the Downs for a run or into the sea to watch the sunset. Being in the water I realised was the place I began to feel at peace. Long gone were any worries about chasing a fast time or covering a certain distance, just the peace of floating around, feeling the water on my skin was the only thing that stopped the incessant chattering of the racing thoughts in my head that I suffered with the rest of the time. I ditched the wetsuit and fell in love with cold water.

As the year wore on and the temperature started to drop there were less people willing to get in the water with me and my friend Claire suggested I look up the Salty Seabirds. This amazing group has allowed me to continue with my winter swimming and has become a valuable part of my journey towards recovery.

amy 5

There is always a friendly face or 17 to chat to in the water and everyone is so supportive of each other with no competitiveness. Last week I even found myself setting my alarm for 04:30 am to swim under the Blood moon at 5am with 17 other brave seabirds. The thermostat on my car showing -4 degrees as I drove down to the seafront wondering what the hell I was doing! It was one of the most magical experiences, organised by seabird Sam, made even more special to share it with such a lovely group of people.

Although the waves of depression still get me, they are getting smaller and I am getting better at staying afloat. Maybe I have become that mermaid after all, or seabird. The future feels brighter, and definitely salty!

We don’t want your money honey – Votes For Women!

Please vote for our Women in Waves project to receive funding from Aviva Community Fund

Here at Seabirds HQ we need help from the Seabirds community and supporters. We are not looking for donations but rather your votes.

We have applied for funds from the Aviva Community Fund for our Women in Waves Project. 

What do we want?

To introduce open water swimming to local women  to improve their physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. 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. 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.

What will the money be spent on?

The money would be spent on equipment like swim hats and dry robes – to keep participants warm and safe, changing and pool facility hire – to provide a safe environment for participants to get used to open water swimming, administration costs and dedicated coaches and instructors to facilitate the courses to ensure the participants get the best out of the courses.

Who will benefit?

We have canvassed feedback from local women, who have experienced hormonal and menopausal related wellbeing issues, aged 40-60. We asked them;

  1. If they visit the beach and swim in the sea?
  2. What factors can contribute to low confidence and motivation, preventing them from swimming in the pool or the sea?

We then asked them to help us develop ideas for activities that would “make them feel happier and more confident” as part of a pilot session. In this way we have gained a real insight into the issues faced by women of a certain age.
We understand that there are points in women’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 firsthand experience. Modern day living is a challenge, particularly in times of austerity. Services are being cut and many vulnerable women are falling through the net.

Why we want your votes

Female-centric courses with participants falling into a similar age bracket in a safe and structured environment may be the only way some women would even consider swimming the sea. We are passionate about encouraging more women into the waves to improve their wellbeing and voting for this project would make this happen

How do I vote?

How you vote in 3 easy steps;

  1. Click on this link Women in Waves and register with Aviva (you must be 13+ to vote)
  2. Enter your email address, create a password and enter your name to register. You will be sent an activation email to this account. Click on that link
  3. Once signed in to your Aviva account you can opt out of their mailing list and search for ‘Seabirds’ which will take you to our project and allow you to vote.

The Small Print

  • To stand a chance of receiving the funds we are aiming for 2000 votes. We are currently at 834
  • Voting is open until 20th November.
  • You can vote using all email alias’s available to you
  • You can share this project with your family and friends and ask them for their votes too.

Still undecided?

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.

Here are some quotes to encourage you to vote!

These are the comments from the women that participated in our focus group pilot session.

” For the time we were in the sea I really didn’t think about anything else but the waves.”

” It was wonderful to connect with new people”

” The sentiment ‘you go in strangers, come out friends” really rings true”

” Lovely idea, good solidarity, much needed”

” Really supportive group – loved it”

” Invigorating, confidence building”

As ever – Thank you for your support and  hopefully your vote.

Seabirds xx

To Swim or to Gym? That is the Question

National Women’s Health and Fitness Day falls on the last Wednesday in September. i.e. yesterday. This is an American concept but one that the UK seems to have adopted. My Social Media streams were full of positive images of women keeping physically fit. Lots of references to introducing exercise into your life and healthy living particularly diet and super foods. But still a disproportionate lack of advice, images, suggestions to promote Women’s Mental Health.

Mental and physical wellbeing are intrinsically linked. If you focus on physical health, i.e. diet and exercise, there is a positive impact on mental health . The WHO states that “there is no health without mental health.” Nowhere is the relationship between mental and physical health more evident than in the area of chronic conditions. … People with chronic physical conditions are at risk of developing poor mental health.

In the past I have prioritised my physical well being over my mental health. I was your typical gym bunny. Always doing the school run in Lycra and headed off to a gym class as soon as I had dropped the little darlings off. The sweat was addictive and the endorphins kept me coming back for more. As with open water swimming, there was a supportive gym and school mum community too. But it was a double edged sword for me. It brings out my  competitive nature and I found that it was never ‘enough’. I hadn’t trained hard ‘enough’. I hadn’t gone to ‘enough’ classes. If I didn’t sweat it wasn’t ‘enough’. My focus on my physical wellbeing was beginning to have a detrimental impact on my mental health.

So I changed my approach and looked for balance. I reduced the gym classes and mixed them up with more gentle classes that focused on strength, flexibility and relaxation. Much needed for 45+ year old joints and a frazzled brain. Slowly I weaned myself off the sweat addiction. But the hardest activity to change was my swimming. Open Water swimming has always been part of my life but in recent years I have introduced pool swimming into my routine. Not indoor pools….that would be a step too far! I applied my standard discipline approach to this activity. The number of lengths I swam each time and the time it took to swim distances. It was hard to be a seabird swimmer, free from swim drills in the pool. The lane ropes almost dictate swim drills to me. So I headed for the sea and ditched the pool. Luckily there was a Seabird flock waiting for me to join them.

Over the last 18 months, since the Seabirds were formed, I have swum in the sea all year round and there has been a marked improvement in my mental wellbeing. However, as soon as the water warmed up enough to be safe,  I found myself setting swim distance targets all over again. Round the pier, counting the groynes or using the iconic yellow swim buoys to measure the distance of my swim. I even swam solo, which was as much to do with a confidence goal as the need to pursue physical goals. If I didn’t swim front crawl without stopping and get up a sweat (yes you can sweat in the sea) it wasn’t ‘enough’.

Vanity played it’s part too. Ditching the gym and the pool changed my body. And not in a way I liked. It didn’t stop me from stripping off on the shingles and showing half of Brighton my bare bum. But lots of my clothes now don’t fit and even the most resilient woman would struggle in seeing the positive in that. Without knowing it the Seabird Community brought me back to balance. Listening to their pre and post swim conversations I distinctly remember one Seabirds saying at school she wasn’t ‘sporty’ and now she is proud of what her body can do after months of sea swimming. Others have talked about being role models for their children, showing them that there’s life in the old Seabird yet. All of them talk about how happy they feel in the water and for hours sometimes days afterwards. The running theme throughout was always that getting in the sea was ‘enough’. It didn’t matter if you swam out to the buoys, lay in the shore dump or floated in the waves. It was ‘enough’

Health and Fitness is and always will be a very personal choice. Alone or in a group. In a gym class or in the outdoors. Dry land or in the water. If you don’t enjoy it and if it doesn’t make you happy it won’t be ‘enough’ and you won’t keep doing it. And your mental health is as important as your physical health. For me finding a balance is a challenge. But I think I am finally there. A mixture of gym classes as I like routine and encouragement. A daily dog walk on the South Downs as I love solitude and fresh air. A seabird swim free from arbitrary goals that leaves me feeling happy.  So the question isn’t really Swim or the Gym. A balance of both is ‘enough’.

 

 

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.

 

Blue Sea Thinking

Using Skin Swimming to beat the dark clouds of depression

Blue Sky Sea Thinking

I have had depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember.
I have also loved being in, on or around the sea for as long as I can remember. It’s only been over the last few years that I have used the big blue as a therapy for my dark days.
Last year, when life threw me a gut punching curve ball, I recognised the familiar dark clouds forming on the horizon and took to the sea with what would become the Seabirds.
Two friends who had also been bashed around by life came with me. We bobbed, we splashed, we squealed, we cried, we laughed, we drank buckets full of tea and the clouds stayed on the horizon.

We formed a plan to skin swim all year round, build a community of like-minded seabirds, which we did, and the clouds stayed on the horizon.

As the temperature dropped our support and encouragement for each other did not. The sea didn’t disappoint, the endorphins flowed, the self-doubt retreated, the mental monkeys were silenced and the clouds stayed on the horizon.

I know the clouds are on the horizon. But as long as my frazzled brain gets some respite from my constant internal conversation from bobbing, surfing, swimming, paddling in the sea, they stay there as part of the view. Part of my world, but not the centre of it, as it has been at times.

There is lots of science about how and why salt water wellbeing works. 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.

They found that regular contact with natural environments provided three major health benefits: reduced stress, increased physical activity and created stronger communities. They also found that people who lived 1km from the coast had much better self-reported health than those who lived inland.

Over the years, I have tried a more main stream approach to managing my mental health. I have tried various prescription drugs, had counselling, attended CBT courses, stop taking hormone contraceptives and the like. All of them have had an impact, to varying degrees and I am certainly not saying anyone taking prescription medication or therapy should stop. I am a seabird, not a doctor. But I would recommend Vitamin Sea as a complimentary approach.

Taking time to be in the salt water does work. The constant horizon is respite from screen scrolling. The sound of shingle moving under the waves is a welcome relief to traffic noises. The cold water gets your heart pumping and your endorphins flowing making you happy to be alive. It is a free and safe way to manage your clouds.

So what’s stopping you? Get in the sea!

………….The next Seabird challenge is a Mile in the Morning. It is exactly what is says. Now we have mastered the art of getting in all year round it’s time to swim further and for longer. Keep checking back to see how we are getting on!