Kindness; The Salty Kind

The kindness of a south coast sea swimming community knows no bounds. It’s an incredible privilege to be part of it. Kindness really does taste sweeter when it’s salty.

All humans are worthy of love, belonging and joy. When we set up the Salty Seabirds sea swimming group, our aim was to create an inclusive community. A group that provided the isolated, the new, the anxious, the self-conscious, would be sea swimmers with love, belonging and joy. And this has been achieved through kindness.

Seabirds asking others to dog sit and babysit while they swim. Seabirds asking for lifts to swim spots they cannot reach otherwise. Seabirds asking for help getting in and out of the sea when they are afraid. These Seabird’s are able to receive kindness. It is that vulnerability that makes being kind such an intrinsic part of being a seabird. The kindness is visible to all in the community, as our dialogue is purposefully kept in a closed social media group. The daily discussions and conversations demonstrate that anyone can participate and ask for assistance and advice. And will be met with kindness.

In the ‘real’ world, self-worth is sought and found in ‘never asking for help.’ In our group it is quite the opposite. Kindness isn’t just about giving. Being kind to ourselves is where it should always start. By being open to receiving love and support and of course kindness from others is definitely top of my self-care list. Recently a new Seabird asked for advice on the safety of the nudist beach, information on jellyfish, and if anyone would swim with her. She was met with offers and advice from many. The kindness of strangers.

There is an element of anonymity within the group.  We know each other’s names and faces (Well I don’t retain names but I do recognise faces), but not what bought them to the group and the sea. It makes asking for help easier when there is no preconceptions or fear of judgement. Remove the machismo of measured activities and you also remove the standard definitions of people by their jobs, family status and postcode. As Hannah so perfectly put in her ‘Meet the Flockers’ Blog; “They (we) swim for companionship with the sea and with each other, to wrestle with devils, to frolic, handstand and sob into the waves, and not once has anyone asked me how far I have swum and judged my response or my fitness

One of the best ways of being kind to yourself is feeling useful. So providing another with kindness actually becomes mutual and reciprocal. The person requiring the kindness from others receives it. The person providing the kindness is, in fact, also being kind to themselves. Affording another kindness provides you with feelings of purpose and usefulness. Rick Hanson wrote an article called “Kindness to you is kindness to me; Kindness to me is kindness to you.” Quite a tongue twister but his article writes about cyclical kindness. Our salty community has cultivated a collective consciousness of kindness. (Another tongue twister). The group has created an environment where approaching strangers to help or be helped is the norm. Kindness is our normal and has become a working practice of the group.

Practising the mindset of caring and compassion leads to continued kind behaviour. Our community provides regular opportunities to practice the skill of kindness. It doesn’t need to be a grand gesture. Something as simple as cake sharing after a swim. We do it unintentionally but with intent. In Ellie’s ‘Meet the Flockers’ Blog, she revealed she was searching for a community of like minded kind people, swimming in the sea was just an added bonus.

The last couple of months has been a challenge for us all, to varying degrees for sure, but still a challenge. As the outdoor swimming community became divided on whether to swim wild or stay at home, we feared the same would happen with our group. The fear was unfounded. The kindness has continued. Personal choices respected. Micro-flocks began to form, reaching out to those self-isolating or living alone. Once the Seabirds were just the salt of the sea. Now they very much are the salt of the earth.

And you thought our group was all about Sea Swimming. Turns out it is so much more than this. It is a kind community.

Until we all swim together again.

community3

 

 

Sea Sick

Sea Sick – when you cannot “Accept and Continue”

Not the motion sea sick, but the not going through the motions sea sick. My normal daily going through the motions will inevitably involve the sea or beach. But at the moment it does not. So I am sea sick. Much like being home sick,  I have preoccupying thoughts of the sights and sounds of the sea. I am finding it difficult to think about anything else and being away from he beach for such a long period of time is causing me distress.

It’s not just the swimming that I am longing for. It’s this time of year swims. Time of year swims only happen once a year. As a year round skin swimmer it is a time when the sea is pleasantly cold rather than uncomfortably so. Well, to the acclimatised winter swimmer it’s pleasant. The beaches are still quiet enough to be secluded and your kit bag is a lot lighter to carry. You can lie on the shingle and soak up the sun in just a jumper. You can actually swim head in without pain searing across your skull. The cold water kick and high is gone for another year but the cold contentment of a spring swim brings an altogether different joy.

It’s also the beach that I long for. There is something about clambering over the pebbles, catching your first sight of the shoreline and your shoulders just drop. Everything becomes muffled and muted. The harsh sounds of traffic, sirens and seabirds are all made to sing in more gentle tones accompanied by the sound of the shingle. Especially early in the mornings before the sea breeze has got up, there’s a stillness to the beach, any beach, like no other.

My longing isn’t just for my local beach. Visiting different beaches a couple of times a year, particularly in the South West and Wales has been a family tradition forever. Never in the height of summer, but normally in the spring we will rent a small cottage, pack up the car and head for a new horizon. It’s part of the winning formula for managing my mental health. I can only really rest away from home.

Our sea from sea holidays always follow the same pattern. I still get up early in the morning and  walk the dog on the beach with a flask of tea. That stillness is ever present on every beach as the sun rises.  Days are spent on long clifftop walks on the SW or Pembrokeshire coastal paths to find secret beaches. The harder to find and clamber down to, the better. The evenings are spent in or on the water. Depending on the nature of our holiday beach we head down when the madding crowds have disappeared. The kids will carry or drag surf boards, SUPs or kayaks. We will carry BBQ or a camping cooking stove, booze and lots of blankets. We will make pebble patterns, decorate rocks, look for sea glass, swim, play cricket….. until it’s dark. Rinse and repeat.

Today we are meant to be in Cornwall, for what was our last time with Libby, my eldest,  before she heads to the USA for four years (or forever) and our family becomes the Fab Four instead of the Famous Five. That makes me sick to my stomach. The loss of this particular time by the sea, the last time with my daughter, is felt as pain. The type of physical pain caused by grief. Instead of listening to her laughing in the waves I am experiencing waves of gut wrenching pain.  And there is no abating it. I am grieving.

As an antidote to my ever increasing anxiety that my daughter will soon be flying the nest, my husband and I planned a lot of trips to give me something to focus on and look forward to in 2020. C19 has had other ideas. So far the virus has robbed me of a trip to Ireland and planned swims at Greystones and the Forty Foot. And now, like so many others, a family Easter holiday. I am not hopeful that our annual extended family (cousins, aunts, grand parents and siblings) holiday will go ahead at the end of May. This year a house, called The Beach House, had been booked in Dorset for the duration. Daily sea swims on my doorstep and the prospect of encouraging family members to join me. They always do, as they know how much it means to me. They do it for me which makes me all kinds of happy.

I know I need to accept the things I cannot control. The wise ones on social media have all shared their Venn diagrams, 12 steps to recovery and ways to change your mindset. I’ve had enough Acceptance Commitment CBT to last a lifetime. Acceptance will most likely cure the sea sickness. But acceptance isn’t something that I find easy. It took me long enough to accept that my wiring is rigged differently causing a frazzled brain  – but when my freedom is compromised – asking me to accept under the constraints of the current situation –  it’s asking too much. So grieving continues, and I know it will subside with time, but I won’t be rushed into it by trying to accept, to me, the unacceptable. I accept no swimming in the sea. I accept no pints in the pub. I do not accept my stolen family time, away from home, by the sea.

Instead of acceptance, I go for swims in my mind. I really realise how that sounds. Like the wise words of someone on social media!  But I’m going anyway and you are very welcome to come with me.

With April comes warmer seas and the end to winter storms. In theory. Things don’t always go according to plan as Mother Nature has firmly shown us over the last few weeks. But what is always true is that when April arrives, the sea temperature begins to rise quite rapidly. The  prevailing wind swings back from NW to SW bringing warmer air over the Atlantic. After the prolonged sunshine of recent weeks I would estimate the sea temperature is now a comfortable 12 degrees – warm enough for head in swimming.  

So my swim bag includes goggles again and footwear is flip flops. I cycle down to the seafront armed just with a towel , flask of tea, a book, hat, goggles and my cossie. I make my way across the shingle, towards  the sea, winter apprehension replaced by a spring in my step. I am on the look out for a spot, flat, sheltered from the wind but in the sunshine, away from people. There’s space by the breakwater. One of the wooden ones, I prefer. I love the colour they bleach to over time and the how smooth the sea has made them. There are always posts and knots that can be used to hang towels and perch cups of tea. Sheltered from the wind.

It’s mid tide, so deep enough to swim but enough beach exposed to not be busy. Course sand and small shingle are at the shore line. I settle in front of a shingle bank, by the breakwater and begin to spread out my things, claiming my spot. As I begin to strip off I watch the sea. I should be watching to work out which way to swim and where to get in. But I’m not, I’m just quietly watching. The swim has started. 

I have a unique way of entering the water. I just walk until I have to swim. No fuss, and at this time of the year no swearing. The winter frantic first strokes and floating on my back have been replaced with a gentle glide. The current is strong pulling me west so I swim east toward the West Pier. The sun is in my face making it hard to sea but there is a sunlit trail of sparkle to swim in. After a while I slip into an easy head in freestyle. My face, hands and feet are cold but I am able to find a rhythm. I haven’t seen the seabed for months but now I am able to follow the lines in the sand again.

I don’t want to stay in for too long. Not because I am afraid of the cold but because I want to stay on the beach for a while post swim. I turn and float with the current – occasional strokes but really letting the sea do all the work. I swim until my knees scrap the shingle and stand up.  I stay near the shore for a while, diving under the water again and again. I don’t feel I’ve had a dip unless I have fully immersed myself and the pointy toe perfection of a handstand does not come without practice.

Back on the beach I throw on a towel and face the sun. The wind is warm and I close my eyes for a few moments. There’s no post swim high, fuelling a fierce need to get dry and dressed fast. There’s a slow sedate contentment that the sea was cold enough to still feel it on the shore and will remain for a while. I am not high, I am content. I stay until the comfortable chill tells me it’s time to go.

When home, I hang my things out to dry in the garden.  Radiator drying is no longer required. My feet are still cold, slippers are donned and shingle is still caught between my toes. It makes me smile. Hours later I can still taste the salt on my face and the skin on my shins begins to crack. In  the hot sun of the summer this can be unbearable, but in the spring it’s a welcome reminder of my swim. I stay salty all day.

So until the sea sickness subsides I will continue to head to the beach in my head. Next time I may step over that shingle to find a bunch of seabirds there. I imagine the new dawn when Seabirds reassemble will be something quite spectacular.

Author: Seabirds Kath

 

The Anthropology of Salty Ornithology

How does community connect in the modern world? By Social Media and Swimming!

As a social introvert I am fascinated by human interaction. Envious of those that seemingly find conversation and connection easy.  Over the festive period the Salty Seabird flock grew to record numbers but I am not always able to face new faces. I observed from afar (social media screen) but was still able to share in their joy and happiness at experiencing a cold water sea swim. I still felt part of the flock.

Being part of a community is not a new thing. Nor is swimming in the sea. But doing it as a community activity arranged via social media is. But what fundamental components of being part of a community remain unchanged?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a Community is; a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common. The internet and social media platforms have meant that I can watch someone else’s swim live, from the comfort of my own home. Watching their face erupt into a smile, breathe in the beautiful scenery and converse with them via comments. It’s not that same as actually being there. Only two of your senses are engaged and there is no real replacement for physical presence but I do still feel part of a community, albeit virtually. We don’t necessarily live in the same place but we do live in the same space.

We also have a particular characteristic in common. The Outdoor Swimming Society have claimed the characteristic ‘stoic’ for the virtual Zeno’s Swim Club. The ability to just keep going – or in this case just keep swimming.  This is true of my local Salty Seabird community and my virtual outdoor swimming community. The impact cold water immersion has on our physical and mental health, has been researched and written about, both anecdotally and academically.  What we all seem to agree on is that in that moment, in the water, we have escaped the day to day. We know it will be there once we’ve dried off but we will be better equipped to deal with it. We are testing our resilience. Why would you enter freezing water willingly? Its takes your breath away and it burns your limbs. Because, you know, once you’ve had a swim you will feel like you can keep going.

I have talked and written at length about the sense of connection I experience from swimming with a group. In a fragmented world, and during times of austerity, the need for connection and community has never been more necessary. The Salty Seabirds have grown from a few to the many, some I have never met, some have names I don’t know, some swim in different spots, some swim long distances and some dip. But I am connected to them. Connected by the shared need for respite and rest and the ability to find it by the sea. Connected by sharing cake and tea post swim. Connected by a rediscovery of childlike joy and the ability to play in the water. For me, connection is at the heart of the community.

Recently the Salty Seabird community has demonstrated the strength of the connection at its heart.  A new Salty wanted to raise some funds for a paediatric study into treatment for Alkaptonuria, the genetic condition her son has. So she posted a call to arms for swimmers join her swimming in the sea through the 12 days of Christmas. The response was overwhelming with incredible numbers of swimmers joining her on a daily basis, donating and sharing the fundraiser. This community, didn’t know her, or her son, when she asked for support, but because a bunch of people have a sense of belonging or connection they answered her call.

Connection is prevalent throughout the virtual outdoor swimming community just as much as it is locally. ‘Tits to the Wind’ organised by 3 wild swimmers via social media was supported by swimmers the length and breadth of the country. The idea was to swim topless and raise money for Mind a mental health charity and raise awareness for Coppafeel which encourages people to check for lumps to ensure early diagnosis of breast cancer. Instagram was full of wonderful images of people exposing their “Tits to the Wind” and sharing the experience. All the topless swimmers are alike in some way, they feel a sense of belonging with each other even though they’ve never met.

Whenever Lindsey ‘Stompy’ Cole puts a shout out for people to join her for a swim or for a bed for the night she is never disappointed. In 2018 she swam the length of River Thames as  mermaid to raise awareness of plastic pollution. Since then she has cycled and swum around the UK instantly recognisable by her infectious grin. Again, via social media, she posts shout outs for swim buddies and place to stay which are answered by the supportive  community she is part of.

Lindsey is not the only one to swim with strangers. Salties join us from all over the world to experience the sea on the South Coast of England. In addition to the wild swimmers individual and group social media accounts, there is a Wild Swim Map and the Outdoor Society FB group. So many way for swimmers to connect with one another. Whenever I go on my holidays I will find a local swimmer or group to swim with. And you know that when you do eventually make it to that waterfall, lake, tarn, you will be made to feel very welcome and very much part of that local community.

The Oxford English Dictionary goes on to say; the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common. Again by wild swimming virtual connections when posted words or an image resonate you instantly feel part of a community. I frequently comment on other people’s posts and have regular dialogue with people I have never met, but I know they are my people. Some of these may be sea swimmers local to Brighton and Hove, who swim in the same spots as me yet we have not met. Some of these sea swimmers may in fact be part of the same Salty Seabird community group but we are yet to swim at the same time and place. This is the beauty of these leaderless, self-regulating communities glued together by sharing the swim love.

Watching my own community of Salty Seabirds thrive brings me joy on a daily basis. Every week new swimmers join us, entering the sea as strangers and leaving the beach as friends.. The local connection of community is incredible. We’ve had single Salties spend Christmas day together. Poorly Salties spend their birthdays on the beach with us even when they are too ill to swim. They fundraise and volunteer for Seabirds, provide lifts to Shoreham Port, swap stories, give warm welcome and advice to new swimmers…….the list goes on. They are the salt of the earth – or in this case salt of the sea.

This is what community looks like – it hasn’t changed – just the way we connect has.

 

Preserved in Salt

We don’t stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing – George Bernard Shaw

“Forty is the old age of youth; fifty is the youth of old age.” Victor Hugo

Since its conception, the Salty Seabird Sea swimming community flock has grown rapidly.  Not sure whether it is due to the group name, the times we swim or because of the community aspect but the majority of our flock are female. And not just female, but females of a certain age. Most of us fall into the 45-55 age group and we regularly forget our knickers. But we feel a lot younger! 

As the sea temperature drops our numbers continue to grow. Swimmers who have been bathing regularly  over the summer are keen to continue, with company, into the winter months. Many arrive for their first swim consumed with anxiety about their swimming ability, what to wear and stormy seas. After weeks of bathing with us they are becoming confident water warriors. It’s good to do something you are afraid of. Swimming in the cold sea, when the waves threaten to knock you off your feet provides reason for a very real fear. It would be so much easier to go home. But what the flock have found is, it is a fear worth facing because the other side of it is a feeling like no other. It’s recapturing the feelings associated with our younger selves, having adventures, experiencing pure joy. We are preserving ourselves in salt!

Regularly swimming in the sea exercises our brain, keeping it young by learning new skills like how to read sea forecasts and how to exit the sea safely. Swimmers have learnt by experience that their fears can be overcome. This neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to form new neural pathways and synaptic connections in response to learning, having new experiences or healing from an injury, keeps us young!

We are also exercising our bodies – but in a playful, kind way. Free from distraction, in the sea, we can tune into how our body feels (which is bloody cold most of the time). We begin to understand it in a way that is just not possible on dry land. Every part of your body immersed in cold water is talking to you and you have time to listen. We are weightless. We are soothing aching limbs. But we are moving. Anybody can get in the sea regardless of their swim abilities – and just move. This joyful movement has the added benefit of improving memory, focus and motivation. We really are preserving our youth.

Mother of all Movement, Kathryn Meadows puts it perfectly. After starting a family, struggling with PND which lead to an unbalanced approach to exercise, she stopped all intense training. “Part of my knowledge growth in that time was learning to love moving again. Moving for the sake of feeling how awesome my body was, not because I “had” to lift heavier or go faster or prove I was still fit. I fell in love with exploring how it felt to use my muscles well, to improve how efficiently I could use them and how amazing it was when I asked my body to do something challenging and it could respond.” This is also true of our Salty swimmers.

Women who swim through winter have a lack of fuss about themselves. Day-to-day dressing, hair and makeup do not apply here. It’s all about getting warm, fast post swim. Underwear is foregone, layers are essential and showers or hair brushing are positively frowned upon.  Photographer Christian Doyle photographed the Salty Seabird Swimmers as part of her ‘Against the Tide’ project.  She said, at the time “Getting your subject to relax in soft flattering light is the aim of every portrait photographer. None of the rules apply here – rather it is saying ‘this is us, how we are now, makeup free, cold and wet and unbelievably happy‘. And its’s true. We give less of a f@?k about what we look like. As long as we’re cold in the water and warm afterwards we are happy.

It is not just how our body looks that we are confident about, it is a confidence in its strength and capability in the water. We may not have washboard stomachs, toned biceps and the tight arse of our youth (did we ever?), but we are strong.  Whatever shape or size, level of fitness or swim ability our bodies are up to the task of winter swimming. Every month ticked off on the calendar is a reminder of what our wonderful wobbly bodies have helped us achieve. And we need to nurture those wobbles with cake.

During a woman’s lifetime they will experience huge changes. During the menopause years alongside all the delightful symptoms many of us are experiencing varying forms of grief. We are saying goodbye to our youth symbolised by our inability to reproduce. We are saying goodbye to our fledglings and they begin to leave the nest. And many of us are saying goodbye to our parents.  It can be a very lonely time and a time of great sadness. But there is a cure for this loneliness and it is swimming in the sea with a bunch of women who have or will experience the same grief as you. Alongside laughter and fun there can also be tears when we swim. But there will also be a hug, some stoic advice and a piece of cake. The salt in the Seabirds preserves your sanity.

Swimming in the salty sea I am not sure if we are being cured, or being cured, but we are definitely having fun! And as Mae West said; “you are never too old to be younger!”

 

Cold Water Sea Swimming – Kill or Cure?

The clocks have gone back, it is officially Cold Water Swimming season. But how do you do it safely?

Many people believe in the healing power of cold water for both body and mind. But cold water does not come without it’s risks. Even in the summer months swimmers can experience cold water shock. So how do you make sure your cold water swim is the cure you are looking for? After 3 years of year round skin sea swimming in Brighton and Hove, this is what I’ve learnt.

Why do it?

There are lots or reasons and lots of research into cold water swimming and why people do it. People looking for a cure for depression, anxiety, physical pain and discomfort.   It’s a great group activity and creates community and camaraderie.  It’s time away from the fast pace of modern day living. Exposing yourself regularly to stress, by swimming in cold water allows your body and mind to adapt to dealing with stress in daily situations. Yes there is pain to begin with, alongside a lot of profanities but sharing the experience with other swimmers is fun and you get to eat cake afterwards!

How to do it safely

The most important skill you need for cold water swimming is self-awareness. If you’re looking to push your limits do it gradually. This isn’t about your swim experience and abilities. This is how you feel on the day. Have you eaten, do you feel physically and mentally well, do you have an injury. All of these factors need to be considered before entering the water.

Swimming in groups is always a win. But do not rely on others to advise you whether it is safe to swim or if you are capable of a completing a swim. You are responsible for your own safety and your own swim as are your fellow swimmers.

Check conditions before AND during your swim. There are lots of apps that help you do this before your swim and when in the water be mindful of potentially changing sea, tide and weather. Regularly take a rest and check the environment. If you need to, change your swim, cut it short, do it a different day.

Knowing the temperature of the water can be useful but it should just one of your checks before you swim. There is no hard and fast rule about how long you can stay in for and when or if you should start wearing neoprene. This again comes back to self-awareness. Doing it regularly helps with adaptation.

Acclimatisation in the first few minutes is key to a safe swim. Your body’s response to cold water is fight or flight. Your heart rate increases and you will struggle to catch your breath. This in turn can cause swimmers to panic. The key is to immerse yourself slowly, control your breathing and float until you feel it pass. You are then set to start your swim.

Swimmers can also be overcome by the cold water temperatures during a swim so sticking close to a safe exit point i.e. the shore is a good choice and make sure you have the skills to get out via breaking waves.

Don’t be concerned with distance covered or time in the water. On a different day at the same temperature you may only manage half of what you usually do. There is still cake afterwards.

Wearing a wetsuit doesn’t remove cold water shock, cold water still needs to trickle in before it warms up,  but it does dull the pain. They are designed to keep you warmer for longer so can increase the time you spend in the water. They also help you float which is only ever a good thing. If you have decided skin swimming (cossie only) is for you then you can wear neoprene accessories to keep your extremities warm.

And as Dory says – “Just keep swimming”. As the sea temperature drops, face in freestyle may become less possible but movement is just as important. The less you move your body the quicker the cold will affect you. If you are struggling to keep moving, it could be the start of cold incapacitation and it is time to get out. Remember cold can overwhelm swimmers very suddenly.

How to get warm

Get dressed as quickly as possible. Lots of thin layers. I lay all of my clothes out in the order I will be putting them on and wrap the first few layers in a hot water bottle. Nothing tight fitting or fiddly. Fingers are too numb for bra fastening and I never remember my knickers.

Move around and keep moving long after your swim. It will take your body a while to warm up and it needs to do it from the inside out. Hot water bottles and blankets warm up your surface and trick the brain into thinking it no longer needs to focus or warming up your core. You may also experience the dreaded ‘after-drop’ as your core temperature can continue to drop after you have exited the water. Also try to avoid hot baths and showers for a while.

Drink something hot and eat cake!

Author: Seabird Kath (who drinks a lot of tea and eats a lot of cake)

 

 

The Great Tit Weekend  – Part II – A Tale of Two Seabirds

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.

 

Kath’s Story

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.

Cath’s Story

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?

A birds eye view

Guest Blog by Seabird Anne as we transition from summer to autumn

This weekend’s blog is an extract from a post that Seabird Anne wrote in our closed Salty Seabird group. She wrote it last Saturday afternoon whilst wearing her new sports cloak! It made us all smile as we anticipate the transition from summer to autumn swimming. Seabirds don’t migrate to sunnier climes – we just wrap up warm!
As the days grow shorter and the people found on the beach in summer snuggle in warm jumpers to keep out the biting sea breeze you may be lucky enough to watch Seabirds evolving into their winter plumage.
Seabirds were once quite rare but in recent times groups have formed on the beaches of Brighton, Hove and as far as Rottingdean and Worthing. They have also been spotted on rivers and lakes in smaller numbers or alone all over the world.
During the summer it is difficult to spot seabirds on the beach as their plumage is usually similar to other beachgoers. Occasionally if you are keen of eye you may spot a canvas “Gertie” cup or bag nestling among a heap of clothes and shoes and that will usually signify a seabird is around.
The first clue that the seabirds are about to change into winter plumage is that the beaches begin to empty of sunbathers and the end of the lifeguard season is looming near.
The change can, for some seabirds, be instant and swimsuit and aqua shoes overnight can transform into neoprene hat, socks and gloves for swimming and fleecy changing robe, fluffy socks gloves woolly hat and the essential flask/cup of hot beverage.
Others take more time and add a little more warmness each time the temperature drops a little more.
Eventually it becomes patently obvious where the nearest flock of seabirds are gathering as you look along the seafront a group of people nearly all wearing the ubiquitous woolly hat and an assortment of warm outer clothes in every colour of the rainbow.
If you are quick you might even see them descend to the beach, lay their plumage on the pebbles and enter the sea singing the song of their people…” oh wow it’s &^%$ing chilly” or the eternal favourite” aaaaggggghhhhhhhh” followed by a high pitched squeal.
They will then exit and wrap themselves up and drink that important hot drink all the while smiling and enjoying the companionship found in the sea and on the pebbles.
See you on the shore Salties xx
Thank you Anne! It’s wonderful to see the flock through the eyes of other Salty Seabirds. 
Copy of sharing the swim love Seabirds Brighton Blog (1)

Sharing the Swim Love – the Salty Seabird Way

What is the Salty Seabird sea swimming community group and how does it work?

“Sea swimming has become part of my regular routine now. It gives me equilibrium. It never fails to shift a black mood. I am outside in all weathers, enjoying life and feeling alive.”

Swimming with the Salty Seabirds has brought fun and laughter into my life on a daily basis. Having FUN and JOY as a routine part of my daily life is SO MUCH BETTER THAN BEFORE. This has made me realise how previously days/weeks/months could go by before, where life was mainly job and duty, no scheduled FUN, much less laughter and playfulness. I have re-discovered my inner child doing handstands in the cold water and found my tribe having a laugh about forgetting my pants again with other Salties drinking tea on the beach.  This is why we started Seabirds Ltd and then the Salty Seabirds. To share the swim love and enlarge the group of like minded folk who relish dicking about in the sea in all weathers! We all deserve fun and laughter and to play – it is the antidote to many, many things I have found.

So if you want to start, how does the Salty Seabird Swim Community work? Firstly it is SELF SERVICE so if you need a swim set up every Wednesday at 3pm for example – you can set one up. Our current regular swims are: Mondays 10:45, Fridays 13:30 and Saturday 9:45 (all Hove Lawns/Dolphin 5) were all set up to fit with our work/life routines.  Regular swims are in the events section in the Facebook group. So are event swims like the monthly full moon swims.

So there are the regular swims, and then the daily random/spontaneous swims posted in the group. This of course takes a bit more Facebook hovering. Anyone can post and if it is posted in the group any member is welcome and can turn up. Unless stated otherwise (ie the rare ‘who will come around the West Pier with me type invitations’) dipping and messing about, head out breaststroke or head down crawl swimming round the buoys all welcome. I for one am a parallel breaststroker and happy with that. You don’t need to be a confident or ‘strong’ swimmer to stay in the shallows and swim parallel to the shore. No wetsuit or wetsuit on. Whatever suits you best. No judgement, all welcome. The experienced Salties are all very friendly and kind, you will be welcomed and glad you came along.

If you would like a bit more information and advice starting to sea swim or are thinking about trying to go through the winter for the first time we are putting on some introductory sessions in October. More information available on the Seabirds website.

Author: Seabird Cath
N.B. To join the Salty Seabird closed Facebook group you will be asked a couple of questions to ensure you have read about us and understand how our group works and if it is the right group for you. Happy Swimming!

Like Mother Like Daughter

An extract from a Seabird mum’s diary from 1980 – wild swimming is not a new thing!

The Diary of Ann Steward

This week I received a letter in the post from my mum. There is nothing unusual in that. I often receive letters, cards, newspaper cuttings and books in the post from my mum. She is fierce in her protection of the analogue and unless I put pen to paper, literally, she will never read any of these blogs. Which is a shame as this one is about her!

So the letter I received was short and to the point. That is my mum in a nutshell. “Dear Katharine, Looking thro’ my many ‘diaries’ I came across “A Selsey Summer” written in the 80’s? I thought you might enjoy this extract. Obviously you have inherited your love of the sea and swimming from your Sainted Mother! Lots of Love.”

To put the extract in context – my mum was a school teacher – and every school holiday we would relocate to Selsey, West Sussex and live in a converted railway carriage on the beach, called Nutshell, with all manner of foster siblings, cousins and anyone else that my parents swept up into their very un-nuclear family.

“We’d swum everyday – to begin with there was time to get in two swims – one before lunch and one after, but for the rest of this week we’d have to wait until 6/7 o/c for deep water unless we cared to try for a swim early morning. 

I was better than ever at ‘getting in’. I still needed that preliminary paddle up and down to knee height, then up to the middle and a pause before a step or two to reach my armpits when I could bob down and launch into my school girls breast stroke.

It was always worth it – even if on a chill, sunless day you didn’t stay in too long. What a feeling of wellbeing – superiority and freshness it gave. Half a dozen strokes towards the breakwater – half a dozen back, bob up and down and repeat. 

The most important purpose of the daily swim was to timetable the day. It set an immovable hour in the day – for it took that time on a chill day and twice that on a hot one, to follow the ritual of gathering the party – pulling on costumes, finding towels and in the case of adults forcing feet into still damp plimsolls as protection from the shingle. 

What time’s high tide? Then we must have breakfast/lunch by such and such. before our swim we could do this and after the swim we’ll do that. And so our day was mapped.”

I remember my mum wrote diaries. I remember our endless summers swimming in the sea. I remember days dictated by tides. I remember how bloody long it took her to get in – but she always did – eventually. And still does. But, I’d forgotten that this life that I live is not new to me. It’s always been my life, me and the sea. All I’ve done is remember and come home.

Author: Seabird Kath

3 generations of Seabirds

mum2

The extract goes on to say ” A couple came to look over ‘The Summer House’ next door which is for sale. They have left their large expensive motor outside Nutshell while they have the guided tour around the quite extensive grounds. How well I remember it years ago when the old gentleman lived there as a recluse. The garden overgrown – little of the house visible, fruit trees laden in the Autumn, banks of primroses in the Spring. We’d dreamed of it being ours.” It never ended up being theirs but they have a beach hut and home on the Isle of Wight now – which I am sure comes a close second.

 

 

Floating

Floating – an essential pastime!

All I have done is float for the last couple of months. With trapped nerves caused by knotty and gnarly trapezius muscle I can’t do much else. Whilst I love to float by choice, when it is enforced, it’s not only my nerves that are trapped – I feel trapped!

I have never been good at resting for recovery. Being active is my therapist couch. As the seas began to warm, and after some technique coaching at Sea Lanes I was looking forward to a summer of long lazy point to point sea swims. But it just wasn’t to be. Instead I have been coaching our Women Wellbeing and Water courses and reading for relaxation. A good distraction but it all keeps coming back to floating. On our confidence courses I have been encouraging participants to relax and float on their backs. My relaxing reads have included re-reading “Floating – A Life Regained” by Joe Minihane. I cannot get away from floating………..

Teaching people, new to open water swimming, to float allows them to experience the buoyancy of their wet-suits or their body and the salt water. It provides them with reassurance that if they feel scared, panicked, unsure, they can flip onto their back and take some timeout to adjust to their surroundings and situation. We create, what I like to call, a Selkie Circle or a Mermaid Ring, where we all float in a round at the beginning of the session. It’s a really good way for the swimmers to become comfortable with each other, with me and their environment. It also looks pretty cool.

Floating is a  vital life saving skill. Drowning can be prevented in lots of instances if the swimmer relaxes to conserve energy and float on their back as per the RNLI Float to Live campaign. As the sea warms up and the sun continues to shine the masses are flocking to the beach. Unfamiliar water and not being used to sea temperatures can result in poor choices and people getting into difficulty. In Brighton and Hove we have a number of drownings every year. The RNLI advice is;

5 steps to float

1. If you fall into water, fight your instinct to swim until cold water shock passes

2. Lean back, extend your arms and legs

3. If you need to, gently move them around to help you float

4. Float until you can control your breathing

5. Only then, call for help or swim to safety

Floating on your back is also a really good way to acclimatise to prevent cold water shock. Nothing like that first trickle down your back! If you spend time floating before you start your swim you are able to acclimatise, regulate your breathing and get used to your environment in controlled way so hopefully the RNLI advice will not be needed. I include it as part of the warm up. There are stretches on the beach first before entry, then a few dolphins dives and front crawl stroke before flipping onto your back to catch your breath and get ready for the swim ahead.

Floating is a great way to feel the tidal flow, experience the impact of wind strength and direction, find a static sighting point and consider which direction you need to swim in. I am famous for swimming in the wrong direction even after studying the various apps that tell me which way the flow should be going. I blame mother nature and the moon. Although it could be my sighting as I aim for one buoy and arrive at a completely different one on a regular basis. After doing everything at pace and being particularly crap at going slow I have learned, the hard way, to take my time and float before I set off on a swim. Having earned the Salty Seabird nickname of Tidal Bore due to my obsession with tides and flows, floating allows me to practice what I preach.

Finally floating is the best way to be one with your salty environment. Ears just below the surface and eyes to the sky you become part of the sea in tune with its sights and sounds. Taking time to really appreciate being in the sea, looking at the colour or the water, feeling the energy of the swell and listening to the shingle being dragged around on the seabed. All of these experiences write your swim story and wouldn’t be possibly without floating.

And the best thing is….everyone can float!

Author: Seabird Kath

A little farewell note on floating.

“And out floated Eeyore.
“Eeyore!” cried everybody.
Looking very calm, very dignified, with his legs in the air, came Eeyore from beneath the bridge.
“It’s Eeyore!” cried Roo, terribly excited.
“Is that so?” said Eeyore, getting caught up by a little eddy, and turning slowly round three times. “I wondered.”
“I didn’t know you were playing,” said Roo.
“I’m not,” said Eeyore.
“Eeyore, what are you doing there?” said Rabbit.
“I’ll give you three guesses, Rabbit. Digging holes in the ground? Wrong. Leaping from branch to branch of a young oak-tree? Wrong. Waiting for somebody to help me out of the river? Right. Give Rabbit time, and he’ll always get the answer.”
“But, Eeyore,” said Pooh in distress, “what can we–I mean, how shall we–do you think if we–“
“Yes,” said Eeyore. “One of those would be just the thing. Thank you, Pooh.” 
― A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner