A webinar facilitated by Open Water Swimming Coach Kath Ferguson. An Introduction to Winter Sea swimming.
Laura has been swimming with the Salty Seabirds for 3 years and is always up for an adventure. But when we asked our swimming community to share their best swim of 2020 to lift our collective spirits, she struggled to find one…..because there wasn’t just one……there were many and they all gave her something different….. in the moment. Her musings about her struggle to choose just one reduced us to tears, joyful, in the moment, belonging and connected tears. Thank you Laura.
There’s been an invitation to choose the best swim of 2020.
It’s been responded to by many, many beautiful posts & memories.
It’s such an honour to be able to read each personal journey.
But I’ve struggled to post myself.
And I couldn’t put my finger on why.
2020 has been described by many, and for good reason, a terrible year.
But I heard on women’s hour on Christmas day, whilst driving a 5hr round trip to the New forest to see my loved ones (Covid tests negative), a suggestion that we see beyond just thinking of it as terrible. Not in a way to be insensitivily, ignorant, bulldozing through the horrors of others; but to not see the space of time of the year as inately bad. This may then stop one from seeing the joy in any of it or the joy that might come tomorrow or anything within that “year”.
I’m not sure I’ve summarised it well but the theme was Joy, and the idea as I saw it, that no matter what, joy might come, even in the darkest times.
What then ensued was a conversation about the fact that the interviewee was a swimmer, infact many of the guests were, including Rev Kate Bottley (swam every day with her lowest swim minus 3) and writer Tonia Buxton who sits in her freezer for 3 mins every morning (she’s a food writer so I’m guessing she might have access to a walk in one because there’s sod all room in mine even if I chopped a hand off!)
And that’s it, there it is again in 2020 (and before*).
The immersion in the cold that has allowed us to feel joy in what has been a difficult year.
And it’s hard to pin it down, that Joy.
I have photos but which one was the most joyous?
Not because they weren’t full or good enough. Or because it may be crass to spout about good when others may be struggling.
Infact it’s so important to share.
I shared the amazing story of Katie Wotton with a client recently. If you haven’t seen the story Katie has lipoedema and the psychological and physical pain of getting into a swimsuit and bring active has been such a struggle but she knew she loved it, and now she’s “got her smile back”.
It’s been so touching to see her journey on FB and to be able to personally encourage her I’ve seen so many other Seabirds give her the encouragement and love she deserved. (Here’s a little clip to watch)
And those of us in the know get it. That joy.
I am openly evangelical about it.
And now the joke has changed from: How do you know if someone’s a vegan to, How do you know someone cold water swims?
Because they’ll tell you, over and over again.
And it’s true.
I’m asked regularly why and it’s hard to sum up.
I’m a Dramatherapist and there’s a similar dilemma, I can tell you in theory what it is and how it works but the spark comes in doing it.
And so I tell people, just try it, it really isn’t that cold…
And many have this year.
And if I’m honest, it was a little bit of a shock to see so many people swim this year, and for a time I felt a little bit overwhelmed.
Suddenly Kingston beach in Shoreham, our* little respite from the storm, was now suddenly packed that you couldn’t get into the car park.
That took some getting use to. But then I quickly got over myself because of course they’re swimming, because its fucking fantastic.
And the Sea is big enough for us all, that’s the beauty.
It’s all of ours. It belongs only to itself.
And if people in one room studio flats in the city need to access it, move aside and let them through because it’s not mine just because I have the luxury of being able to walk down.
It’s life enhancing.
It’s saved us all.
It’s listened to our woes, it’s held our weaknesses. It’s given strength and courage.
It’s tickles our senses & enlivened our spirit and it’s washed away what we don’t need to hold.
And so now I’m obsessed.
If I’m not in it, I’m next to it, scouring it’s shores, cleaning it. Taking 3 for the sea and more.
Because we have a duty to look after it.
And if I can’t be near it I’m reading more about it.
For Christmas my work Secret Santa gave me the book Gift from the Sea.
I devoured it in one sitting and sat emotional, awestruck and understood.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote it in 1955 and it’s still so relevant in so many ways.
I could quote so much of it now but I’ll let you find the nuggets that might resonate. Or not. Because we’re all different (thank goodness).
But what it made me realise is I can’t find my most memorable swim because I needed each one in so many different ways this year.
The fierce ridiculously large storm waves on my first crawl swim lesson with the amazing Christine who was so calmly unflappable as we spluttered and inelegantly forth with our breathing, the waves and the jellyfish flying by us!
The times when we pilcharded on the shoreline, getting gravelly knickers, peb-jazzled nether regions, and exerting exhilarating Cackles.
The early morning quieter meets, that start with a few nods and end in dressing while singing je t’aime.
The swims to let go, to mark losses.
The swims where we curse and cackle and turn the air bluer than the sea and sky with our language.
The swims where the world is put to rights, and we remembered what we used to know but have forgotten.
The river swim where I swam furthest I ever have and practised my crawl, with pride and trepidation that I might be swallowing cow pee, but just loving the glorious beauty of it all.
The night swim with my youngest on a deserted beach.
The many many many Groans, Huff’s, Grunts, swearing, cursing, gutteral release of almost every one.
The letting go of the Rona, Boris, building work, relationships, work, hormones, perimenopausal angst, life
Just letting go.
And the moment in every swim where I float on my back, breathe, silent and look up into the sky.
And none of that could have happen without a Seabird by my side.
To quote Anne:
My Island selects for me people who are very different from me-the strangers who turns out to be, in the frame of sufficient time and space, invariably interesting and enriching…life chose them for us.
And that’s partly why I can’t choose one swim this year.
Because in every swim there has been a different beauty and often a different seabird.
I can’t choose and miss one.
And also I realise that I can’t choose the best because the sensation of Joy is in the “now” moment of every swim.
I find it hard to feel that exactness again.
It’s being completely alone yet being completely held at the exact same time .
It is in being in the present so completely.
That is what gives me exactly what I need, and that’s what I hope you’ll find if you try it.
Here’s to being in the moment.
Thank you Saltys
I’m all come swim with me until the summer when I have no desire to swim. Or is it because I have no need to swim?
It’s that time of year again when the inevitable summer swim slump occurs. Life gets busy and the beach gets busy. I find myself muttering under my breath about fair weather swimmers as I approach our increasingly crowded favourite spot of shingle in front of Hove Lawns. Hardly aligned with my belief that swimming is for all and everyone should give it a go. The warmer waters remove the temperature barrier that prevents so many from swimming in the sea. This is a good thing. But still it keeps me away from my sacred sea.
It’s not that I like solitude when I am swimming. I have written many times about the sense of community and connection I gain from swimming with others. But I also do not like crowds. Too many people, too much noise, bodies invading my fiercely protected personal space overwhelms my over sensitive brain. I also fiercely protect my swimming space and when I see plastic all over the pebbles I want to weep. Hardly my happy place in the summer months.
My swim squad also disperses across Europe on their holidays. They share images of Italian Lakes, Yorkshire Tarns, French Rivers and Greeks Seas. They have all found secret swim spots, a Salty Seabird haven away from our busy beaches. There really is nothing better than finding a swim spot with family and friends and there is no one else there. You’ve hit the wild swimming jackpot. This is impossible in Brighton and Hove as the beaches are always busy in the summer and good old Sussex by the sea is a wild swimmers dry spot. There are rivers and lakes in abundance but they are not accessible to the public. I scroll through neighbouring Surrey’s wild swim group in envy at the access they have to the Thames and the River Wey. The Wild Swim guide books offer no real alternative to the sea in Sussex.
The alternative would be getting up at sunrise before the beach gets busy. Not really a hard task for an early riser like me. What ever the season I will wake up between 5-5.30am every day. During the summer months it is light enough to head down to the beach for a swim. Seabird Christine runs the 6.15am club and most mornings partakes in a dawn dip so I would even have Salty company. But I just can’t seem to muster the enthusiasm during the hot months. I think I may be a cold water junkie. If the sea temperature is below double digits it seems to be more appealing. During the summer the sea is room temperature, which for me, is a bit bath like.
I am currently on holiday in France where they have a much more tolerant attitude towards swimming outdoors than we do in the England. There are Lakes and rivers in abundance close to where I am staying. But, in all honesty lakes just don’t do it for me, especially when they are 25 degrees. I class the Mediterranean as a Salty Lake – not a sea. The water level is low so the rivers near by are too shallow to swim in. With lots of research and driving around I could no doubt find a suitable deep bend in a river. But I came on holiday to relax and read not to swim. And I am just as happy to be dry for the duration.
So what happens to my mental health during these times of drought, when I am an advocate of outdoor swimming as a way of managing wellbeing. As I write this, with a glass on rosé sitting on a veranda in Provence in the cool outdoor air I am happy. I have in fact been happy all summer long, even with a reduction in regular swims. Life has been by no means smooth swimming, life isn’t for anyone, but I have experienced no significant episodes of anxiety or depression. Which has made me consider why. Don’t get me wrong I am glad not to be sad but I wonder why.
Cold water swimming is just one thing in my arsenal against my mental health demons. I have lots of other things that are working alongside regular sea swimming. They have been been doing their thing in the background consistently as the dips have dwindled. Supplements, talking, rest, new experiences, good books, digital downtime, exercise, dog walks; are just some of the things in the mental health ammunition box that allow people to continue to cope. I am fortunate to have access to them all.
I have a husband and a business partner that keep me in check and tell me to slow down when I am accelerating at a rate of knots that is not necessary. Down time away from digital distractions is a necessary part of my mental maintenance but difficult to balance when you run your own business. Being disciplined with my down time and clever with scheduling has had a positive impact on my wellbeing.
I am currently well rested. Lots of early nights and saying no to too many evenings out has enabled me to manage and recover from numerous Seabird evening sessions, lessons and events. Now I am on holiday and the pace has definitely slowed to a crawl. If we are lucky, the kids may rise before lunchtime, so our excursions are mainly low key and local. I have entire mornings to read, write, think.
I know these things, amongst others, are working on my wellbeing. They are the hidden cogs that aren’t as visible as my sea swimming. My shoulder was injured for months preventing me from doing any swimming of substance. Yes I was frustrated but I accepted it. The busy beaches have reduced my swim time to once a week but I don’t mind. I am on holiday and the main focus isn’t finding a swim spot and that’s OK.
Don’t get me wrong the desire to jump into any body of water I happen to stumble across is still there. And I cannot wait to get back to the pebble, waves and community of my favourite Hove beach. But for now I am just as happy out of the water
Author: Seabird Kath
We had the most wonderful weekend in Wales at The Great Tit Weekend.
Cath and Kath do a ton of stuff together. By the very nature of being business partners our daily lives are entwined. We share values, experiences and thoughts on an almost daily basis. More recently we have been told that we look alike and asked if we are sisters, (what parent would call both their daughters Katharine/Catherine?). It would seem, to the onlooker, we are morphing into the same person. But we couldn’t be more different. So this week’s blog is written by both of us about our shared experience of the Great Tit Weekend from our differing perspectives.
13 Salty Seabirds went to Wales for a weekend of sea swimming.
I was really looking forward to swimming in Wales, I have visited Pembrokeshire a few times before at different stages of my life but not since being a Salty Seabird. So exploring the beautiful quiet coves in the water rather than from a cliff top or harbour wall was really appealing. But as the day to depart drew ever closer I began to get anxious. I manage my mental health by balancing my life with regular downtime which includes swimming. But the other tools in my box are sleeping, reading, walking – all of which I do in solitude and silence.
I have learnt that, although I enjoy the company of others, after a while I need time away. This is for lots of reasons, the main ones being; i) I am deaf on one side and the constant white noise of crowds being filtered out so I can actually engage in a conversation is really tiring. So is lip reading and my eyes are constantly darting around trying to keep up with the conversation ii) when you have anxiety, as I do in groups, particularly in groups I don’t know, suppressing the urge to run out of a room or finding the strength to enter a room is exhausting. The idea of bunk house accommodation, with nowhere to hide, a definite lack of sleep and meeting new people is my worst nightmare. But the fresh air, beautiful countryside, like-minded lovely people and new places to swim and explore are a dream come true. I can’t stop the waves but I can swim in them!
So how was it? It was wonderful. I had my moments of silent screams but they came and went. When Cath went to the room early on Saturday night every part of me wanted to follow her but I didn’t, I stayed and I danced and I laughed and I wasn’t just OK I was happy. Sunday morning I went down to breakfast on my own, saw Laura in the queue and devoured a full fry content with her charismatic company. On the way back from Abercastle swim I struck up a conversation with a stranger and we didn’t stop talking until we go back to our cars. I sat blissfully at peace, quietly with Claudine on the pebbles after a morning swim. I jumped naked into the Blue lagoon to a rapturous round of applause with Sam and Kelly.
All of this was possible because of the sisterhood of swimmers. The brilliant Blue Tits that organised the weekend and the Salty Seabirds, some of whom I had never met, that joined me for a weekend away. The sense of connection and community amongst us was strong and the smiles never stopped. The post swim highs continued into the follow week as I remembered more moments of joy and fun. Naked women in cow troughs, freezing foofs and questionable dancing. People helping others into or out of the water. People sharing stories, advice and friendship. Not once were the memorable moment’s ones of fear or stomach knots.
I’m never going to be able to approach new faces and places like Cath. She has a rare gift of being able to talk to anybody, I watch her with people in awe. She is naturally warm and friendly and brings an energy to social situations that can’t be described. I can jump off a 12 metre cliff naked but I struggle to talk to strangers. Which is why two C/Kaths are better than one.
I was really excited about the Blue Tit Weekender. I haven’t done much wild swimming away from home and Brighton and had seen so many beautiful photos. I was looking forward to meeting the Blue Tits too. They seemed like our gang. Lairy women embracing the cold with two fingers up at ‘middle age’.
I did manage to mess up my foot 5 days before we went so I was worried about not being able to get about. Extra footwear in the bag and off we went. 4 of us in the car up the motorway. A long old journey punctured with essential (and usually slightly overdue!) wee stops and lots of chat. It was a good laugh – like weekends away when we were younger. Lots of laughs and singing along to shit old songs on the radio. Hannah commented as we nearly arrived that “I had nearly forgotten that this wasn’t the fun bit” we had such a good time. Of course Kath was driving so I can’t speak for how much she enjoyed the journey up! (Thanks Kath!)
On arrival there was a lovely smiley Blue Tit in a dryrobe pointing out the way down to the reception and more smiley women waiting in the canteen as people gradually arrived. I felt comfortable amongst these people – they were our gang and we fitted straight in. One of the smiley woman waved and pointed at her ‘SaltyAF’ Seabirds hoodie – this was Loz, Lorraine in our Salty Seabird Group. Hadn’t managed to meet us at a swim yet but had signed up and come along to join us. Brilliant! She and husband Andy fitted right in with us and we fitted in with all the others.
The whole gang (100 of us) mainly, but not solely, BlueTits shared a common love and a common purpose – to enjoy the water and enjoy the hell out of the weekend. Within that environment everyone was inclusive, friendly and chatty. We met two young women from Manchester (who we named the ‘Mancy Tits’) who had come along knowing nobody. They came and hung out with us when we went for a swim on Saturday afternoon. Someone joined us on that swim who had grown up 20 minutes from me and had headed up to Wales to swim without remembering the BlueTit Weekend was on! When in the waves together all barriers are down.
Saturday night and I was starting to feel tired and flagging a bit – but Kath got the Salty gang in the mood with all over face tattoos courtesy of Hannah, Laura dished out beards and pirate accessories and we got in the swing of it enjoying the evening’s entertainment. There was a powerful sense of community and camaraderie in the songs and the room that really moved me.
The overall highlight for me was the Blue Lagoon swim on Sunday morning – as I limped round the path heading down to the water we were greeted by the sight of a great mass of women. Colourful swim hats, cosies and robes to naked fabulousness. It warmed my heart and made me glad to be alive. We are empowered, proud of what our body does not what it looks like. It really looked and felt like being in a fairy story or legend, I had rounded a corner and come upon the powerful women, Selkies or Swim Witches. Happy in their skin. Wonderful.
Now I am a bit shyer, and “British” about the nakedness. Not bothered at all if others want to, but a bit shy to get my own personal tits out. Not at the Blue Lagoon. Off it came and in I went and it felt amazing. Powerful. Joining the sea witchy coven! Then to look up and see Kath coasteering stark naked and jumping in from a high drop to great applause. Fan-bloody-tastic. So glad to have found my tribe I love them all. Yes, I can talk to strangers but I doubt very much I will ever be able to jump off a cliff naked (or otherwise!) like Kath, especially in front of over 100 people – legend! (and thanks again for driving all the way up and back and the extra bits to save my mashed up toe x)
Thank you to all that joined us in Wales from Brighton and to all the lovely Tits we met over the weekend. It really was a wonderful weekend. The magic of the sea cast it’s spell and strangers left as friends.
Next year Scotland. Who’s in?
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
The weather and tides can change in an instant but so does the seascape. What colour is the sea?
The question everyone asks me is “What is the temperature of the sea?” The question I always ask myself is “What colour is the sea?”
When I swim off Brighton’s beaches, with a flock of Seabirds there is a lot of routine to what we do. We find a sheltered spot to change. But this spot can change depending on the state of the beach and the direction of the wind. We check our phones to make sure we haven’t missed any stragglers or welcome fledgling swimmers as we always swim in company. But it is never the same group of people. We look at the tides and conditions and consider the direction of the flow and which way to swim. But we don’t always get it right. We shout, scream and sing on entry into the cold water and gradually split into smaller groups to chat while we swim. But it’s not always the same person you end up swimming with each time and sometimes there is a bit of silence.
It’s in these moments of silence that I always, without fail, consider the colour of the sea. No But. There will always be a point during the swim that I focus on my hands in the water and look at the colour. The seascape changes all of the time. Sometimes the shingle is up on the prom, sometimes you can walk across sand to the pier, sometimes, just sometimes you get lovely lines of surf. Twice a day there is a high and a low tide. All of these changes are obvious to all. But how many people notice the change in colour of the sea?
We all use the term ‘Sky blue’…but what is sea green? I have rarely swum in the sea when it is green. But there is a palate of colours it has been and will be throughout the year.
A the sea warms up and the season moves from Spring to Summer, May bloom appears. May Bloom, is an algae bloom that is caused by increased sunlight and water temperature. This causes a massive growth in plankton, which colours up the waters. In 2018 it lasted longer and reached further across the sea surface than I have ever known. It not only changed the colour of the sea to a rusty orange, but gave it the consistency of a really yeasty beer. You literally had to wade through froth to find clearer water to swim in and you left the water with a slimy film on your skin. At high tide the water was too deep to wade through and we ended up with dirty Father Christmas beards. In the magic of one swim as the tide turned to push you could clearly see the plankton in the strong current and swimming through it, head immersed, it was like being in an episode of Stranger Things and swimming through the ‘Upside Down’
In the winter months, storms that sweep across the Atlantic create large swells and the colour of the sea couldn’t be more different from the warm water bloom. It is a dark foreboding pewter in colour, almost metallic. It’s dark colour is almost warning you not to get in. This colour is normally accompanied by large waves that sharply break just before the shingle known as shore dump. And the colour warning should be heeded when the tide is high and the waves are big. It creates a striking contrast against a normally light grey sky and coloured pebbles but it is my least favourite colour for swimming in.
Every now and then there are summer days when the wind is offshore but not cold and the water turns a Mediterranean turquoise. It is so clear you can see the seabed right up until the end of the Pier. As well as being crystal clear, it is a flat as a millpond and the sunlight reflecting on the surface creates mesmerising shimmers and sparkles. This is when the sea is at it’s most inviting and unfortunately in Brighton it’s most busy. There will be days like this over the colder months that ensure the tranquillity of the water can enjoyed with less company but the pay off is ice cream brain as you submerge your face to experience the water clarity.
Aqua green waves are my favourite colour. Again this is a rarity and seems to accompany clean swell that has managed to make it’s way round the Isle of White without finishing at the Witterings. The waves come in regular sets and don’t churn up the seabed leaving the water awash with sand. Instead the sun catches the wave face and creates a shade between green and blue. Like the aquamarine gem it glistens. The colour is just as wonderful experienced from above as it is below the waves.
These really are just a few of the colours the sea can be. There are peaty browns, bright blues and pea greens. It’s all to do with the colour of the light and how it is absorbed by the water and the depth of the water….or so I am told. Not sure I really care how or why the colour if the sea changes, I just love that it does meaning no two swims are ever the same.
Author: Seabird Kath
Footnote 1: The regency iron railings along the promenade in Brighton are ‘Brighton Blue’ a kind of aqua/turquoise colour. It changes colour from Brighton Blue to Hove Green at the Peace Statue marking the boundary between the once two separate towns.
Footnote 2: 100 Flags and Colour Wheel. Over several weeks throughout 2010 Finch observed the ever changing tone and colour of the English Channel. He then selected a pantone colour swatch for each moment observed resulting in a palette of 100 variants of sea colour, which was used to dye 100 flags. The four existing flagpoles at Christchurch Gardens were used to hoist a different sea-coloured flag every day. The colour of each monochrome flag was determined by an observer of the sea every day of the Triennial following Finch’s swatch. The flag hoister chose the corresponding flags and raised them at midday
Last Year’s Summer Swim Slump
Long hot days and warm sea temperatures have created idyllic sea swimming conditions from as early as May this year in Brighton. The offshore breeze that just wouldn’t shift for two months meant flat seas inviting longer safer swims. Lots of visitors including jellyfish, seals and even a shark added to the swim excitement and anticipation. Clear aqua water creating a picture postcard seaside setting enticing normal swim aversive beach-goers into the water in their droves. So why did this seabird stop swimming?
With the summer brings increased social commitments and the kids school holidays. Every weekend is packed with BBQs, weddings, parties, camping trips, weekends away. Summer family holidays are taken and weekdays are spent juggling child care and cramming in work. Life is full to over-flowing. And it’s great. The endless summer we dared to dream of is a reality. Especially this year, when the weather has been so kind to the British masses.
But it’s only great for a while. This summer hedonism is not sustainable and the inevitable summer slump arrives, for me, in July. This year the summer started early. Early because of the weather and sea temperatures got into double digits in April. Early because my eldest did her GCSEs and her endless summer started mid June with festivals, parties and prom. Early because I returned to teaching life-saving to school children on the beach and gained a permanent shorts tan at the start of the season. So by July I was kind over it!
With the slump came a ‘can’t be bothered’ attitude and an unshakeable fatigue. This was clearly visible to the naked eye. My normal priorities of sea swimming and being outdoors resided on the back burner and mundane non-urgent errands and tasks took poll position. These errands and tasks included watching season 1-4 of Poldark. I have literally been swimming off Brighton Beach maybe 5 times in the last 2 months. And when I say swimming I mean a dip, a couple of groynes breast stroke, catching up with a willing seabird,that due to the crammed calendar, I probably haven’t seen for a few weeks. I looked on with envy on social media as our flock of seabirds grew over the summer but I am conspicuous in my absence.
I truly believe that outdoor swimming, open water swimming, wild swimming, what ever you want to call it, should be free from arbitrary goals. You can float in a pond, jump waves in the sea, swim lengths in a lido or smash out kilometres down a river. Yet my summer slump was gradually stealing this belief from me. By August I found myself in the wonderful cycle of self loathing. Loathing my body and mood that had changed due to a food and drink over indulgence. Loathing that I wasn’t going round the buoys at least once a week. Loathing that I still haven’t been around the West Pier this year. This slump was gaining momentum. (Not sure how slump can gain momentum as a heavy non-moving thing but you know what I mean).
So it’s September 1st. I declare summer to be officially over. For me anyway. The kids return to school and college and routine returns. I have cleared the calendar and cancelled camping. The warm weather is welcome to hang around but not for too long. Poldark season 5 hasn’t started yet. So this week I have been in 3 times. Once for a dawnie and met two new wonderful seabirds. Once for a sunset swim post brilliant Swim Talk at Sea Lanes. And once for a regular swim spot swim followed by tea and cake. The later catching up with summer lost seabirds who had also had summer slumps. Now it is Autumn, I am planning to go back to my routine 3 swims a week. One early bird swim, one Fun Friday swim with tea and cake and one Saturday Social swim. Sod the slump let’s swim!
My experience of completing the STA Open Water Swimming Coaching award in the midst of anxiety.
And I was, I really was. Although I was treading water, on a STA Open Water Swimming Coaching Course, I was definitely a Seabird out of her depth.
So how did I end up here? The rhetorical answer is, I was hoping to gain a qualification that would enable me to be the lead coach for our Women Wellbeing and Water sessions and any future Seabird sea swimming courses. The literal answer is by train from Brighton to Welwyn Garden City.
The timing of the course could not have been worse. My husband was working away at the same time. We are trying to sell our house and buy a new one. And my 16 year old was embarking on her first trip abroad, to France to watch the Women’s World Cup with her mate. Plus June is a busy month on the Seabird calendar with lots of events, sessions and get togethers.
The days before were challenging. My anxiety was spiralling out of control and the internal chatter telling me to withdraw was relentless. Flicking through the pre-course material did nothing to quieten the hard time my brain was giving me. Buoy turns! I float at the buoy and take smiling snaps. Drafting! I draft more people into the sea by providing them with encouragement and a safe environment. Pack swimming! We forget to pack our knickers and laugh about it over tea and cake. The manual had very different descriptions of these open water swimming skills. I quickly flicked to page 99 on the skills section entitled ‘ Acclimatisation and Overcoming Panic’ desperate to ease the worry.
Is it possible for one human to produce an infinite amount of cortisol? In constant fight or flight mode for days I was hanging on by my finger nails and exhausted. And the course hadn’t even started yet. I busied myself with helicopter parenting of two very capable teens and left packing and considering train times until the last minute. Classic avoidance. So it was no surprise that I ended up on the wrong bloody train! Cue the first fighting back of tears. I even remained on the wrong train until a minute before it’s departure, frozen in fear with my M&S nuts and wine. Finally I plucked up the courage to retrieve my kit bag and suitcase and made my way to the correct platform to board the correct train.
The rest of the train journey was uneventful but provided a lot of time to think with little to distract. Cue more more tear fighting and a ridiculous amount of texts to my husband who was waiting in a German airport for his flight home. As the train pulled into Welwyn Garden City I was very ready for a walk to my hotel and some fresh air. Living my best life I was curled up in a Premier Inn bed, in a town I suspected was the set of Stepford Wives, watching Netflix on the iPad by 9pm.
You’d think I had never swum in open water, put on a wetsuit or coached/trained groups of people in the water before. But I actually have a ton of experience in all three. But the impostor syndrome persisted into the next morning when I woke up at 4.30am. Thankfully breakfast started at 6.30am so just 2 hours of worry time between me and a full fry up! My depression and anxiety have never come between me and a meal.
By 8am I had received a lifeline call from Will. Will and I know each other from a previous course and he too lives in Brighton. He is an incredible swimmer, but his best quality is his infectious enthusiasm and capacity for kindness. He was travelling back and forth from his parents house rather than experiencing the delights of the Premier Inn on the outskirts of a purpose built town. He had arrived early and was trying to find the course facility. With his clear directions I set off to start the course.
I know, I know. It makes no sense to be nervous about completing a course when there is a familiar friendly face there to greet you. And it was a huge relief to see his smiling face when I arrived. But that is what anxiety does. It robs you of your ability to reason. Gradually the room began to fill up. I scanned their faces, looked at their physiques, considered their kit backs – trying to ascertain their swim ability. We then did a round table introduction starting with me. Stories of swim teaching experience decades long, huge endurance feats completed or about to be completed, our coach was Keri-anne Payne, Olympic silver medallist for goodness sake. Any respite Will’s welcome had provided was very short lived.
The course is 3 days long, mainly classroom based, with coaching practice in a lake. Keri-anne created a wonderfully inclusive learning environment which set the tone for the next few days. Her stories were inspirational but not because of the phenomenal feats, medals and wins she has achieved. They were inspirational because they were relatable. She too has been spooked in the water – by a twig of all things. But I was still apprehensive about getting in the water. Yep, you heard it right. Me, nervous about getting wet. But wet I did get. And it was fine as everyone except for me knew it would be.
The next day was more of the same but better. By now we were all getting to know each other and I was able to appreciate what a wonderfully warm group of people I was with. Our backgrounds, swimming experiences and goals couldn’t have been more different but our passion for swimming, in all it’s different guises, had bought us together. I swim for community and connection (and cake) and it was still here, in a lake in Hertfordshire with a bunch of strangers that were fast becoming my support network.
Then it happened. The tears. On day 2. Holding it together for prolonged periods of time can only end one way . Day to day functioning is, for me, the hardest part of my mental illness. I can do it, but I need to factor in rest, relaxation and respite. The days leading up to this course, the lack of sleep and unfamiliar faces and surroundings were fast eroding my game face. It happened when we were split into groups of 3 to practice coaching an OWS skill with each other. Rob, 34 years in the armed forces, was tasked with coaching myself and Christine on pack swimming. My biggest barrier is swimming in confined spaces. In indoor pools, in close proximity with other people I have experienced my one, and thankfully only, panic attack. To say I was going outside of my comfort zone was an under statement. But I did it. Part of the coaching methodology is for it to be swimmer led, asking questions to consider their needs. Poor Rob asked me how I found it. The response was initially a whimper and then a full on sob. I quickly reassured him that his coaching had been all the things it needed to be to get me to do something I didn’t want to do and the tears were because I was beyond chuffed that I had done it. I think everyone saw, I am not a quiet crier. The compassion with which my tears were met made me cry harder. I was caught in a crying loop.
That night I felt well enough to have dinner with some of the others at the local Beefeater – living the dream. May be the release of crying was just what the doctor ordered. I certainly felt less uptight and restless. And now that the others had seen the real me, the vulnerable me, the over-thinking me, the crying me, the worst had happened. The mask hadn’t slipped, it had totally fallen off and I was OK. My crying had been met with kindness. Sleep was still evading me and we still had to be assessed the next day, so I wasn’t out of the woods yet. But pretending to be confident in my abilities was one less thing I had to worry about. That floodgate was well and truly open and there was absolutely no point in trying to close it again.
The next morning, Will picked me up and we arrived early as we had to complete our written assessment too. This is where depression makes his appearance after being pushed to the back of my mind by anxiety. Where anxiety tells me I can’t do something, depression physically stops me from doing it. The thought of doing something, anything, is met with lethargy and avoidance. On the outside it looks like you can’t be bothered, but in reality you don’t know where to start and feel totally overwhelmed. We’d had plenty of time to complete it in the evenings, mornings, breaks but I just hadn’t done it. Sometimes the only way round this is a deadline. I needed to complete it, I needed to pass the course, the Seabirds Women, Wellbeing and Water project was relying on it. So I started.
What was reassuring was that everyone was nervous that last day. Everyone had questions about the written assessment. Everyone had worries about the practical assessment. We were connected in our concern and we were community in the comfort we provided to each another. I wasn’t alone. I was with a group of Seabirds.
So day 3, the last day, started. We had a round table discussion on what we had learnt and what we would take away from the course. A really positive way to start the day as we shared our stories. Then it was time to be assessed in the water. We were split into 2 groups and had been given a skill to coach the night before. There would be pack swimming in a group of 9 at the end. My mind started searching for the fear, but it just wasn’t there. The whole group had witnessed me at my worst, they knew I hated it and Will who was coaching the pack swimming session was able to adapt it. I was at ease. So we did it, with me right on the furthest edge obviously. Christine, a very gentle woman positioned herself right beside me to ensure I was OK. And never left my side reassuring me with her calm presence. But then Will asked the question. Did anyone want to change position? And I did. I wanted to know what it felt like to be in the middle, amongst melee. He shouted go from he other end and I swam. It wasn’t long before I was kicked hard in the leg (still bruised now), swallowed a gob full of water and was left behind by the faster swimmers. This time there was a smile, not sobbing. I’d done it.
It was with heavy hearts that we all said good bye to each other and swapped details at the end of the course. But we were all really excited to get home and put our new coaching skills into practice. It’s an incredible course and one which would thoroughly recommend. And I will, in another blog………
My mental health is the biggest challenge I face on a daily basis. It tells me I can’t do things, when I can. It tells me I don’t need to do things when I do. But the sense of achievement of when I can and when I do in the context of my anxiety and depression is my Olympic medal. And as my mum always said, a smooth sea never made a good sailor. Or in this case a skilled Open Water Swimming Coach.
Author: Seabird Kath
Note: The featured image is a coaching session on pack swimming before we lined up at the start line. As Denise says – “we’re all friends here, until someone says go!” And my goodness did she go – I quite literally ate her bubbles. I managed to keep up with them for at least 2 strokes and I survived the washing machine it created. I put myself right in the middle and I survived.
Big thanks to Will, Rob, Christine, Amanda, Julie, Ellen, Lisa, Denise and of course Keri-anne for spending an amazing three days with me.
The ramblings thoughts and wonders of why being in, on or by the sea chases the blues away.
It’s Mental Health Awareness week in the UK. The Salty Seabirds have had a great week of activities and sessions all aimed at improving wellbeing and all centred around the beach and sea. This is how we manage our blues. By Blue Health, Blue Science, Blue Space, Blue Gym, Blue Mind.
Evidence from around the world continues to grow that being in, on or around the sea and ocean has a positive impact on our mental and physical health. In a world of instant and virtual the constant and real is respite.
There is a lot of science and studies centred around how this works and why. I am no scientist and haven’t studied for over 25 years but the beach is my happy place and I have spent time wondering why. Here are my thoughts on how and why the big blue can stave off my blues.
One of my thoughts turns to human biology – we are made up of 70% water, and salt water at that, like the sea. The sea covers 70% of the earth’s surface. So going into the sea is like coming home. Think of it like osmosis – when we return to the sea we gain balance.
I think that things that are certain in the world around us, ground us, make us feel safe. I know that the tide will come in and go out every day. So although the state of the water is not constant the moon’s pull on it everyday means the sand will appear and disappear, much like worries. As the tide ebbs and flows so do my cares and concerns.
I find the sound of the sea soothing. I remember arriving in morocco, some years ago, in the dead of night and being shown into a cool white room with windows wide open to a pitch black vista. I had no bearings, no idea where I was, what was outside the window, in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar faces. But I had the best night sleep, soothed to sleep by the sound of the sea, the waves steadily meeting the sand. Better than any lullaby.
In fact, it is all I can do to stay awake when I am on a beach. When I left full time work due to ill health we spent a week in Cornwall for me to begin my recovery – I slept on the beach every day. Another trip west, I had a badly infected leg which prevented me from getting in the sea. I would regularly be found slumped and snoozing when the family returned from surfing or rock-pooling. On top of the cliffs by Godrevy Lighthouse there is a particularly soft spot of sea pink and grass by a sheltered stone wall for anyone looking for a secluded snooze.
Just seeing the sea lifts my mood. As a child, crammed between siblings, my mum would try to distract us with ‘first one to spot the sea’ wherever we were going. And I still play along now – even if I am the only one in the car. The excitement of discovering a new beach and possibility of new surfing, swimming, snorkelling, walking, rock-pooling, coasteering, kayaking and possibly sleeping adventures. Being physically tired from a wet activity, and mentally tired from focusing on a new environment is the best kind of tired. It is a clean childlike exhaustion caused by good clean fun and happiness, not day to day stress. I realise that new beaches cannot be a daily occurrence but the changes of the local seascape can be enough escapism to create a similar satisfactory tiredness and happiness.
I never tire of the sight of the sea. The blue goes on forever. The constant horizon, never changing allows the brain to recover from constant screen scrolling. The blue light from our gadgets suppresses the production of melatonin, the hormone which is responsible for inducing sleep. The natural light at the beach has the absolute opposite affect on me – it quietens my brain and invites rest (and sleep!). So just being by the sea, looking out to sea can be enough. Drifting while you water gaze. Mindless mindfulness.
My relationship with the sea can be described as a ‘healthy respect’. I am a safety first kinda girl, know my limitations and only go in when I know I can get out. I have many of the same fears as others about deep water and what lies beneath yet I am still drawn to it’s vastness. It is bigger than us yet it does not overwhelm me. I think, it is because it is so big and so vast that I become part of it when I am in it. I am diluted along with my anxiety and low mood. I am cognisant that this sounds very new age and evangelical but I am not trying to covert the world via baptism. I just feel that the significance of the sea, washes my worries into insignificance.
The sensation of the sea is a funny one to wonder while we are in the midst of may bloom. The sea is like a thick pea soup while the algae ferments. It feels slimey and smells awful. So to times of clearer waters….. The waters off the UK coast are always cold and although you can acclimatise and it warms up during the summer months you can still feel the cold sensation on your skin whatever the time of year. In the winter months it bites and burns making you aware of every part of your body. Making you feel alive. In the summer months it cools and soothes, no movement is required to to cope with the cold water, but instead you can float. Oh how I love to float – as soon as I can, I flip onto my back, sight to the skies and immerse my ears in the water. Many a seabird has researched Cold Water therapy, Total Immersion and the Wim Hof method. For me a good head dunk re-sets and re-calibrates – I have no idea why – it just does. And doing handstands in the sea is fun!
So today it is a Blue Moon and and I will be swimming under it’s shine tonight with lots of other salty seabirds. The perfect end to a week of chasing the blues away in, on or around the big blue. However it works, I just know that it does, for me it’s the sea.
Author: Seabird Kath
I can confirm that absolutely no controlled research was conducted to support the ramblings, thoughts and wonderment contained in this article. It is all anecdotal. A Seabird singing the blues
I can also confirm there are many other places you can swim outdoors other than the sea that may or may not chase the blues away – but I am a seabird and I am salty and cannot comment on regular swimming in lidos, lakes or rivers. But I do like a good waterfall!
Come and join the Salty Seabirds for a swim on Wednesday evenings!
I watched my partner sea swimming for years thinking he was a bit bonkers (while seeing clearly how good it was for him) before I took the plunge and discovered it was for me too. You can see how it benefits the smiley swimmers in the pictures but you still feel hesitant about actually taking the plunge…
As part of Mental Health Awareness week this week the Salty Seabirds have come together to put together various events – one is our new Wednesday Evening Swim – the first one very much aimed at encouraging newbie swimmers to come and try a dip with us.
We are a friendly, inclusive bunch, open to ALL who want to swim/splash/dip/bathe with us. Visible female bias in the shared photos and chat we know but men very welcome, honest!
So, to practicalities. Now it is a bit warmer, what do we actually need to get in the water apart from our swimsuit (not expecting anyone to skinny dip for their first swim!). The real answer is nothing. Warm layers for afterwards are essential so that you don’t suffer from the cold you will inevitably (it’s the good bit, I promise!) feel. There are also a few other bits of kit that make it much more do-able – you can do it without them as some choose to but it can be the difference between putting you off and you getting in and enjoying yourself so I have tried to pare it down to the basics:
- Swim hat; to limit the ice-cream head effect, support pain free handstands and keep hair (relatively) dry to protect against wind chill on wet hair. Having said that some of us insist on dunking the head before getting out for the full cold rush/re-boot effect.
- Large towel or changing robe; as we change on the beach these can protect against wind chill and flashing your arse to passers by. We have had a few dressing gowns recently which do the trick nicely.
- Warm layers for afterwards; woolly hat, thick sweater etc. Easy to put on dampish skin.
- Neoprene socks/boots and gloves. Many of us have ditched the gloves by now but not the boots. Decathlon have them or you can find them online (Some folk are fine without them it has to be said.
- Hot drink: not totally essential but very helpful; (using a cup as a hand warmer great tip)
Any other tips please feel free to comment below. If you want to try before you buy gear message us in the event page and we can see about lendings…people may have spares hanging around…
I will bring the biscuits – see you next Wednesday!
Author: Seabird Cath