The benefits of a Swimming Community

As our Salty Seabird Swimming Community grows, a reflection on the benefits of swimming with others.

I have been swimming in the sea for as long as I can remember. My mother likes to take credit for my love of the sea as I spent a huge part of my childhood in, on or near the sea. I won’t even consider a holiday that isn’t near water. My happy place and happy times are shared with my husband and kids. Sharing time in the water with them is my favourite thing to do.

My biggest swimming achievement this year was swimming solo around the buoys off Brighton’s beach. It wasn’t my best swim of the year. Yet it was memorable as it was a first for me. Although I am confident swimmer I can get spooked by what lies beneath and am known to chant’ just keep swimming’, a la Dory, in my head. I regularly swim round the buoys with the Salty Seabirds and out to the West Pier Marker Buoy with the local Surf Life Saving Club but never solo. On my own it was a very different swim. There was no stopping and chatting at the buoys, silly photo taking, buoy climbing or floating and admiring the shoreline view. This got me thinking. I can swim around the buoys on my own, but I don’t and not because I can’t, it’s because I don’t want to. I like sharing my swims.

There has been lots of research on the benefits of cold water swimming and the positive impact it can have on physical and mental wellbeing. Here in Brighton there is a large beach community of swimmers that swim all year round. Many of these swimmers also spend their time out of the water researching the benefits of sea swimming. They hope to gain funding to enable more people to get in the sea. Open Water Swimming is becoming popular with people from all walks of life, all readiness levels, shapes and sizes all keen to experience benefits that are so widely talked about. The post swim ‘high’ is promoted as the new drug of choice to beat depression and for me personally it is. But the positive impact can be as much about the cold water physical effect as being about the community and the sense of belonging.

The Outdoor Swimming Society is a brilliant organisation with really useful information for swimmers. One of the things they advocate is swimming with others as part of their tips for safe swimming. But for me, I do not swim with others for safety (although this is also a consideration). I swim with others as part of a shared experience and shared love of the sea. I get the same benefits from being with a bunch of like minded Seabirds during the getting changed faff and the mandatory tea and cake as I do from sharing the sea with them. The Seabirds are my sanctuary, my safe space, my solace. My community.

What is remarkable is that I did not know many of the Seabirds a year, month or week ago. Some I am yet to even meet. They have grown so rapidly in their numbers and organise swims as a self service. Attracted to the inclusive community, they post where and when they are swimming and if that suits, others will join. You can enter the sea as strangers and exit the sea as friends. It has been amazing to watch this growth over the summer months and into the autumn. They are a bunch of people who take to the sea for self care and wish to do it with companions. They have become a community.

There are a number of books I have read about the swim community. But as fictional novels or a collection of personal journal entries. Some of my favourite books resonate with me because they are centred around a group of people that draw strength from each other in the water. I don’t think these books were written with the intention of of promoting the positive impact of belonging to a swim community. But they have. ‘I found my Tribe‘, ‘The Whistable High Tide swimming Club‘ and ‘The Lido‘ to name but a few all have a swimming community as a theme.

Whether it be Lido’s, Lake or Lochs, the outdoor swimming community provides a sense of belonging in a very fragmented society. Swimming groups provide each other with confidence and friendship unified by a love of being outdoors and in the water. Unlike many other outdoor activities it straddles age groups, gender and socio-economic status. You don’t need to be fit to do it, it’s free or relatively cheap and in certain circumstances you don’t really need to be able to swim – as long as you get wet it counts.

In Brighton, there is a swim community group or club to suit all. Brighton Swimming Club founded in 1860 has a long tradition of sea swimming and has changing facilities east of the Palace Pier. iSWIM is a newly formed club that operates organised swims and events from Brighton Sailing Club by the West Pier. The Brighton Tri Club and Brighton Tri Race Series run training sessions in the sea over the summer months. We have our fingers crossed that Sea Lanes will receive planning approval to build an outdoor pool on the sea front creating a sea swimming community hub. There are lots of smaller community groups too that are more fluid in terms of their swims and facilities. Salty Seabirds is one of these.

The Salty Seabirds community aren’t concerned with swimming times or distances. Depending on who joins us on the day will dictate whether it’s a disciplined swim around the buoys or a leisurely social swim, parallel to the pebbles, counting the concrete groynes. You can chose your stroke. Some do front crawl, others breaststroke and a few back stroke. We are yet to spot a butterflying seabird. We understand that there are points in people’s lives where they need support; to build resilience and make improvements to their well being. The sea dipping and swimming seabird community provides company and respite from day to day challenges and worries.

So strong is the sense of community that we three founding members of Salty Seabirds set up a business together. In 2017, we experienced significant changes in our lives, resulting in daily sea swims. We all needed solace from the rat race and some life-changing curve balls and we found this in the sea and from each other. The simple joy of meeting, getting in the cold water together, being outside and doing something playful had a really powerful effect on all of us. Whilst chatting, bobbing, changing, faffing and drinking tea, Seabirds Ltd was formed; in the sea, where all the best ideas are born! We decided to build a business with a moral code; ethical trading, organic, anti-waste and pro-people business, with a trading arm generating alternative funding for charities and local community groups.

Alongside this, the Salty Seabird swimming community was ever present and grew from us three to over 100 swimmers organising up to three different swims in different locations in a single day. We’ve all noticed the huge benefits that being in, on, or near the sea has had on both our physical and mental health and well being. Creating a way for others to experience these benefits was a natural next step. In 2019 we plan to run confidence courses to encourage women into the sea . The course will 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.

We recognised the need for salted wellbeing. We recognised the need for community.

Author: Kath Seabird

A Seabird Haven

Seabirds swimming in fresh flowing water at Wallers Haven

Wallers Haven – Seabird on tour, inland!

Earlier this summer I was attending Camp Abyss with some of my favourite people in the world; close family and oldest of friends. Sweltering in the heat of high summer and stuck in an exposed, treeless field for the last three days, we needed to cool off and get wet. I turned to my new favourite discovery; (yes the one I’ve been banging on about for ages) the Wild Swim Map and the Wild Guide and found out that Wallers Haven was our nearest swim spot. Hooray!

It is a little difficult, to say the least, to match the spot on the road to the description given. However, we parked on the side of the (very fast) road, waited for a gap in the traffic, then headed over to the bridge to investigate. Unfortunately, we ended up taking the most difficult route, which turned into a battle with nettles and one of our party almost falling down the side into the river.  Don’t do that as there is ‘proper’ access via a path a bit further up the road each way!

Stumbling on, hotter and grumpier by the nanosecond, we eventually rounded the concrete jetty described in the map. It really is the most beautiful spot. Peaceful and surrounded by countryside, with Weeping Willow trees dangling down over the silky surface of the river. Mineral tasting water, refreshingly cold in the heat of the day. My first river swim! Having been stung by nettles, almost falling into the river and spotting a ‘snake’ on the surface of the water, one of our party stated that they were just there to watch.

However, it proved inviting enough to get all of us in and having the absolute best free fun that there is to be had! This despite our varying levels of confidence and anxiety about being out of our depths etc. Some stuck to the edges for a quick float, others dived or jumped in and generally messed about. A perfect spot full of simple pleasures. We all returned to the festival invigorated, energised and much, much happier, all fully converted to Wild Swimming too.

We would love to hear of your favourite swim spots in the comments.

Author: Seabirds Catherine

Tips for warming up after sea swimming

“After drop” is common after swimming in cold water; you get out and feel fine, and then you start to get colder, sometimes growing faint, shivering violently and feeling unwell.” (Outdoor Swimming Society) 

Learning to head off the after drop is a key part of continuing to swim in cold water all year round. While in the cold water you can be lured into a false sense of security (numbness!) and stay in for what turns out to be too long. With practice you learn your limitations and just how cold you are going to be about 10 minutes after getting out. You then moderate your swim times and get out before you feel you have to. Then the key is warming up – slowly. If you have a hot shower, for example, the blood can run from your core (where it is working hard to maintain your core temperature and keep you alive!) to your skin and actually make your temperature drop along with your blood pressure – potentially making you feel faint and ‘stinging’ your skin.

Tips to warm up after you get out of cold water: 

  • Get dressed as soon as you can. Preferably starting with the top half of your body.  Use a haramaki. As you start to warm up blood starts to recirculate in your extremities and peripheral blood vessels, cooling as it travels. You can lose up to 4.5°C from your core temperature so a haramaki is great.
  • Use a robe or a sports cloak to get dressed quicker and protect you from the windchill as well as your dignity.
  • Put on a hat and gloves and have some tea from a flask you brought with you!
  • Put on lots of layers. Haramaki, gloves, hat, thermals.
  • Sip a warm drink: this helps warm the body gently from the inside.
  • Eat something: sugar will help raise body temperature so have some cake!
  • Sit in a warm environment: chance for more tea and more cake with your fellow swimmers….
  • Walk around to generate body heat. It can take some time to warm properly. Running up and down the beach while waiting for your friends-who-faff can help.

For more information about acclimatising to cold water, the benefits and the risks go to the Outdoor Swimming Society 

If you have any good tips please add in the comments 🙂

Author: Cath Seabird

Women, Wellbeing & Water

Since the announcement that Birds get Big Lottery Grant we have been super busy at Seabirds HQ. Not the bad kinda busy but the good kinda busy. People asking to join the closed Facebook Group which is used to organise our swims and share smiley swimming snaps. Lots of enquiries in the inbox asking how people can join our sea swimming community group Salty Seabirds or register for the funded confidence course. An endless amount of coffee invites from Brighton Beach community supporters keen to celebrate our success and offer help.

As can be the case when starting a social enterprise, there are just as many lows as there are highs. Money and time are tight and you can feel for every step forward you are taking two back. Funding rejections can test even the most resilient Seabird. Not only has the lottery funding covered the costs of the course but it gave us much needed affirmation buoyancy to keep our project afloat.

The number of enquiries we are receiving highlights there is definitely a demand for this type of community swimming. Open Water Swimming has grown significantly over the last few years. In Brighton and Hove there are lots of swim groups that regularly meet up for a dip in the sea. It appeals to a huge variety of people from Triathletes to soul swimmers. And there is certainly room for everyone to swim their own swim and find the group that suits their needs.

Since the new broke about the Women, Wellbeing and Water course and the opportunity to join us for a Pilot Session our small informal  swimming group has grown ten fold. We have no facilities, no committee, no rules and no subs but still people wanted to join us changing on the beach and jumping in. So many women identified with the fluid easy nature of the group. Salty Seabirds have a few regular swim spots and times but basically is there for people to say when they are swimming and where so that others can join them if they feel like it and if it fits in with their family and work commitments.

The aim of the Pilot Session was to try and test out ideas that will shape the WWW course next year. Again demand was high and we had to turn people away and instead invite them to join a Salty Seabird swim instead. This reinforced our belief that there is a need for a course that focuses on respite from daily life and provides participants with the confidence to introduce sea swimming into their lives. So leading up to the day in question was beautiful sunshine….on the actual day non stop pouring rain. Heavy traffic meant we were late to open up and set up and we hadn’t managed to bake the much promised cakes. But all participants turned up, all  participants shared their swimming experiences, all participants got in the water, all participants smiled through the rain. Oh and those smiles.

Lots was learnt including never underestimate Brighton traffic on a rainy Saturday afternoon in September and shop bought cake goes down just as well as homemade after a cold dip in the sea. We’ve all met up since for the Harvest Moon swim and the regular Friday Frolic swim which celebrates the end of the week. Many participants have introduced new swim spots that are closer to their homes since our session and swum with people they met on the day. It seems that when you strip off your clothes to swim in the sea and share that experience you instantly become part of a very inclusive community. I heard someone or read somewhere that you can enter the water as strangers but leave the water as friends. This was very true of our pilot session and we are very exited about launching Women Wellbeing and Water in 2019.

 

To learn more please email info@seabirdsltd.com

Winter is Coming – the anticipation of cold water

Last year, the Seabirds swam in the sea all year round. It wasn’t a conscious decision. It just sorta happened. We started meeting on the beach to swim in May and we just didn’t stop. We were/are just a bunch of ordinary people who began regularly sea swimming due to changes in our personal lives. These changes meant we had the time in our normally busy, modern day, lives to take to the water at short notice and during the working day. Every month going in was another notch on the bed post although we convinced ourselves we hadn’t set ourselves arbitrary goals. Making it to December and the end of 2017, was a real highlight. Making it through January, February and March, when the Beast from the East turned up, really tested our determination. Swimming in the snow and frozen shingle. Who knew that would be a thing.
We all agreed that we would make concessions for the cold to ensure we were still able to get in the sea. Even if it meant donning a wet-suit which we were very keen to avoid. But, if it meant the difference between getting in or not, we would wear a wet-suit. This never happened. We are not skin swimming purists. We don’t judge neoprene clad swimmers. We believe you should wear what you feel comfortable in to ensure you get in. If the cold is a barrier then neoprene is the key that unlocks that door. As long as you get in who cares what you wear! Skin swimming is, for us, a choice we made as we love the high we get from being cold and hate the restriction of a wet-suit. However, if you are swimming kilometres rather than Brighton buoys and groynes and aren’t blessed with a slight middle aged spread, get your seal skin on.
We do have some adaptations though. For me, the head stops going in when the sea temperature drops out of double digits. I revert to a shoulder aching, face out, breast stroke. This is when my collar bone gets cold, a painful burning cold, from being both in and out of the water and the inevitable wind chill. So I resort to a thermal vest over my swim suit. Neoprene boots/socks are also a must. Not just for traversing the shingle beach to enter the sea, but to get out. I need to know that when it is time to get out, I can get out and get out quickly and safely. We double hat to preserve heat and pull on gloves to stop gnarly hands. See, hardly skin swimming purists, more cold water swimming with reasonable adaptations!
Swimming safely is also a massive consideration. Most of our flock have links with Brighton Surf Life Saving Club and the Seafront Office. We know only too well what can happen if you get too cold in the water. More concessions are made in the colder months. In deepest darkest winter when the water temperature plummets our swims are no more than 10/15 minutes. We never swim alone. There are no Lifeguards on duty after September until May so no red and yellow flags and safe swim areas. So if it’s too rough we just don’t go in or we pilchard on the beach. (Pilcharding is lying down in the shallows on the shingle in a line allowing the cold waves to wash cold water over you.)

We also have the best selection of cold combating after wear, accessories and refreshments. Hot tea and cake is an absolute must. Along with a woolly hat, woolly socks and woolly gloves The brighter and more garish the better. A brisk walk is better than a bath afterwards….but a bath ….with wine is also good!

Lots of layers, it sounds obvious but we love our haramaki core warmers. A fleece lined sports cloak is brilliant to get changed under and indeed travel home in. And clothes to easily get on afterwards when your hands just do not function with the cold. Tights and skinny jeans are not part of an outdoor swimmers staple wardrobe. Nor are bras. And sometimes knickers when we forget to pack them. 
So we made it though last winter with our concessions and cold combating accessories. The positive impact on our well being being the driving force. In fact, we swam more regularly during he cold months than we have all summer, as the Seabirds migrated for their holidays. And now here we are, turning to face the changing season. Last time full of naive anticipation. This time full of nervous anticipation. While the sea has been warmer and our swims longer we are looking forward to the more social winter swims. With heads out we get more time to chat. The chat is a necessary part of the swim, not just for our well being. It also allows us to regulate our breathing as we adapt to the sudden drop in temperature and prevents cold water shock and panic. Sometimes we sing too.

We are all a year older and hopefully wiser. Wise enough to know that it gets cold. Really cold. But while there’s a Seabird that is willing to swim it will encourage the rest of the flock into the swimming formation. Of this we are sure. 

Birds get Big Lottery Grant

This week at Seabirds HQ we have received the wonderful news that we will receive a lottery grant. The grant will fund a 6 week course focusing on women’s confidence in the water. It is aimed at women who wish to improve their physical, emotional and mental well being.  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, and imagine the participants to be all fit die-hard triathletes. Whether this be true or not, there is definitely a demand for a female-centric course. 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.

The course will run in June 2019 but we will be testing out the course content on some ‘willing’ volunteers in September 2018. Our working title is Women, Well being and Water. We will be working with other agencies, charities and local community groups to create a course framework that can easily be used by other groups and clubs.

There are points in people’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 first-hand experience. Having an understanding of the benefits of getting in the sea all year round, the Seabirds want to help make sure more people have the opportunity. Their courses aim to reduce obstacles to sea swimming, empower more women to get in the sea and use this fabulous, free, local resource in a safe and confident way.

Many women that would benefit most from sport and physical activity are the very women who are least likely to participate for cultural, personal, practical, and economic reasons. Helping women to overcome these barriers and supporting them to engage in activity will provide them with many positive outcomes and ensure that access to sport and physical activity is equal for all.

Open water swimming benefits have been researched and written about a great deal over the last few years and is often referred to as Blue Science. 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.

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.

We literally cannot wait to get more women in the sea!

September Book Club Read

I am finding it hard to put into words my thoughts about the September Seabirds Virtual Book Club read. Just thinking about some of the emotions this book invokes starts the back of my eyes stinging and the laptop screen becomes a bit of a blur. It is also an impossible task as nothing I can even contemplate writing comes close to the authors wonderful way with words. I think the best thing to do is just read it, and read it again, and again and again and again.

Wild Woman Swimming is a collection of Lynne Roper’s diary entries about wild swimming. The entries were written over a five year period in which she was recovering from a double mastectomy until her passing. Lots of her thoughts, experiences and stories resonate with me as they will for anyone who has been fortunate enough to be part of an outdoor swimming community.

The book was edited by Tanya Shadrick, Pells Pool‘s writer in residence for the last couple of years. I was lucky enough to attend a Swim Talk event recently where Tanya was a participant speaker and heard her read extracts from the book. She has the kind of gentle brogue you could listen too forever, slightly hypnotic and incredibly soothing. And when the words she recites have such insight into the freedom and respite wild swimming can provide…… well you have the perfect partnership.

So here is a taster to wet your reading appetite. “It’s a spiritual experience, sliding through wild water. Worries dissolve, my mind is liberated; thoughts flow and glide and play like dolphins. My soul swims wild.”

Enjoy and may all of your souls swim wild.

**Disclaimer – This s a book to be read outside – may it go waterlogged, sun-buckled and wind-chapped.