Surf Solace – an introduction to the South Coast’s newest charity

Over recent years a lot has been written about young people’s mental health. The teenage years are a challenging time for all young people as they struggle with changing bodies, hormones and establishing their place in the adult world. For some, due to family relationships, socio-economic factors, mental illness such as anxiety or depression, unique traits such as autism, or specific traumas such as bereavement, it can all become just too much. Moreover, in these times of austerity, the services that provide young people with the support they need to navigate these challenges are sadly, barely available.

Local Fire Fighter, Shaun Challis, has become all too aware of this during his time coaching young people in various aquatic sports and school enrichment programmes. Hence his drive to set up a new charity ‘Surf Solace’ on the shores of Lancing Beach in West Sussex. 1 in 10 young people aged from 5 to 15 suffer from a mental health problem (Mental Health Foundation, 2013). Factors that can influence this are apparent in this community and the Local Authority report ‘Adur and Worthing Community Profile 2014’ shows Adur to be the most deprived local authority area in West Sussex; with anti-social behaviour as the most common crime. Adur also has the highest percentage of 16+ year olds with no qualifications in West Sussex, over a quarter of the entire 16+ population – a shocking statistic by any measure.

‘Taking the waters’ for health and well being has a long history in the UK. There’s growing evidence to support the tradition of sea swimming, surfing, etc for health and well being; suggesting time spent in natural settings, like beaches is beneficial.  

Surf Solace aims to improve young people’s self-esteem and well being by using the sea as a resource!  They will provide six-week, sea-based activity courses for up to 20 children and young people aged 11-18, who are at risk of social exclusion or mental health issues. Sessions will be delivered with 1:1 support from volunteers within the local beach community; bringing both participants and experienced sea and beach users together. The idea being that the participants grow in self-confidence and learn new skills to help them navigate through life. Most importantly, the sessions are free of any pressure to succeed – participants can work at their own pace and achieve their own goals. To take part, clients must be referred by someone working with them professionally, such as a support worker, teacher, doctor, counsellor or similar. Best of all, there will be no charge for the courses.

The new charity has 3 Trustees; all local people, who advocate the positive impact the sea environment can have on well-being and recognise the need for ‘Sea Therapy’ in the community. Phil is a local sports enthusiast who runs his own water activity company and has regularly volunteered as a mentor to young people.  Mel manages the BHT Threshold Women’s Service & their Mental Health and Wellbeing Service. In her younger days she was an outdoor pursuits instructor and a competitive swimmer. She is an experienced  psychotherapist who regularly volunteers for local community groups that focus on the sea and well-being. Lastly Ferg is a dad that has learnt to surf in his middle age and gradually love the sea! (mainly as he is forced to spend most of his spare time in the sea with his wife and kids). Crucially, he is familiar with the third sector and gives up much of his time to support small, local charities.

However, setting up a new charity is no easy task; particularly in the light of the bad press many larger, well known charities are attracting. The first hurdle has been a chicken and egg conundrum. In order to gain approval from the Charity Commission you need to demonstrate cash in your bank account. In order to get start-up funds via grant applications you must be a registered charity. So, unless you have a wealthy benefactor, you’re rather up against it. Seabirds Brighton CIC have pledged our support for the fledgling charity in the form of unrestricted funds via the profits from our trading arm web shop and crowdfunding campaign. Sadly, this has not yet been sufficient to launch the pilot therapy course planned for September 2018 due to substantial set-up costs. Amongst other things, expensive public liability insurance is mandatory sea activity equipment such as wetsuits and surf boards don’t come cheap. Although this has been disappointing for all involved, the upside is that it has provided more time to concentrate on fundraising activities to ensure that everything is ready to go in Spring/Early Summer 2019.

What you can do to help

  • Donate – either your time, old equipment like foam surfboards, wetsuits etc or cold hard cash. You can also contact them to understand how you can make a one-off donation or set up a monthly standing order to support their aim of getting more kids in the water and improving their outlook on life.
  • You can contact Surf Solace  by following them on Facebook to offer your services as a volunteer, both in and out of the water, or drop off old equipment.
  • Buy products from Seabirds to provide unrestricted funding for the 2019 courses.
  • Attend events – throughout the year there will be events to raise funds for Surf Solace – the most imminent being Perch Beach outdoor cinema nights on Lancing beach.

 

August Book Club Read

August already, so time for another book. I hope you enjoyed the previous two reads, The Salt Path and The Last Wave.

This Seabird is about to jet off to Turkey for two weeks and this is the book I am taking with me! The Whitstable High Tide Swimming Club by Katie May. The author is a sea swimmer who lives in Whitstable a shingle beach similar to that of Brighton. So she is a Seabird by default.

The Good Read Review said –  the uplifting novel about friendship, community spirit and how ordinary people protect what they love. 

It struck a real chord with me as it is about friendships formed on the beach and in the sea. There is a familiar backdrop of a change in personal circumstances for some of the characters. This is exactly how the Seabirds came together. During difficult times we found each other and the solace of sea swimming, drawing strength from each other.  We never planned to keep going all year round, we just didn’t stop and grew into a a wonderfully eclectic sea swimming group. We became the Seabird Community.

One of the book’s characters is described as a bossy organiser – I think I know that seabird is me!

As ever with the Seabirds Virtual Book Club please let us know your recommendations and you thoughts on previous reads. I can’t wait to get on a sun lounger and start this months.

Come Swim with us……….

Seabirds are a group of swimmers that swim in the sea on Brighton and Hove’s beaches all year round.

We are not an official club but rather a community of like-minded swimmers. We post in our Facebook Group where and when we are swimming for others to join. There are early morning, daytime and evening swims. The locations change as do the fluid times but are normally to the west of the West Pier. We even do day trips sometimes!

Some of us skin swim all year round and are great believers in cold water therapy. Others wear wet-suits. As the seasons change so does our attire and we can often be found cooing over a seabird latest swim paraphernalia buy. We don’t really care what you wear as long as you get in the sea!

We aren’t concerned with 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. In the sea noone cares if you cry – (unless you are wearing goggles as it’s kinda counter productive.) It’s all salt water after all. Seabirds swim as a flock for a reason.

Even on days when it is too rough to go in we will meet and paddle, pilchard (lie in the shore dump) or walk. And there is always tea and sometimes even cake. We have no clubhouse so you need to be prepared to change on the beach!

Our swim spots are named and are  based on the Lifeguard Post they are situated within. Last year the crafty Seafront Office changed the names of them so they went in numerical order east to west. So we now have various names from D5 (Old name – short for Dolphin 5 in front of Hove Lawns Cafe) to Romeo 8 (New name in front of the bandstand).

As an ‘unofficial’ club we have no rules……but we also have no Public Liability Insurance and participants swim at their own risk. We stick to lifeguarded beaches in the summer months and make safe choices in the colder rougher winter ones.

So what’s stopping you? Come and swim with us!

Seabird’s Book Club – July Book

So I finished the Salt Path. It was a wonderful read. I know many of the places referred to on the SW Coastal Path so it was very familiar to me. The situation the main characters found themselves in, is not. It left me heart broken at times, especially knowing that this was NOT a work of fiction! A read for the bedroom or the sofa rather than a public beach unless you are wearing a huge pair of Jackie ‘O’ glasses to hide the tears. I really warmed to Raynor – a survivor in the truest sense. If you haven’t read it yet – DO!

This month’s book is The Last Wave by Gillian Best. Her debut novel. I am already nearly finished and is an easy read. The story is told by the main characters – each with their own perspective on events that happen throughout their lives. Always in the background is one woman’s love of sea swimming and the escape from day to day drudge, responsibilities and worries it provides. The main character, Martha, is clearly a Seabird. I hope you enjoy the July read.

Here’s the blurb: A beautifully rendered family drama set in England between the 1940s and the present, following the life of Martha, a woman who has swum the English Channel ten times, and the complex relationships she has with her husband, her children and her close friends.

The one constant in Martha’s life is the sea, which offers an escape from her responsibilities as a wife and a mother, consolation when she becomes ill and comfort when her husband succumbs to dementia.

The Last Wave is a wholly authentic, tragicomic portrait of family life as it is buffeted by sickness, intolerance, anger, failure and regret. This mature and compelling new voice offers a novel soaked in empathy and salt water.

Here’s how the seabirds virtual Book Club works;

  • Once a Month a new book is chosen for the Seabird virtual Book Blub members to read.
  • It will be announced on Social Media.
  • Ideally the book chosen should be water, sea, swimming, well being related.
  • Anyone can chose a book or write a review – just comment away on social media or here.

 

 

The Fish that remembered how to swim…the sequel

Solo swim around the buoys. Feeling very proud of myself as I am not a solo swimmer. The other seabirds opted for a parallel groyne run but I was desperate for a long 'proper' swim. After a quick moon dip on Tuesday night and  sharing the water with 30 kids yesterday and wednesday I actually welcomed the solitude and only got spooked once  by a fish.  As is usual I obviously chose the wrong direction to swim. Really hard leg home against a current pushing me out and west when I wanted to swim in and east. Took what felt like forever. Sandy bottom view was beginning to get monotonous.  Lovely welcome home crowd. Lots of teeny tiny jellyfish attracted to the movement of my hands. Took a while to see them as so translucent and super speedy. Think they may have been stinging me which felt like tickles. (Swim robe available @seabirds_ltd)  #justkeepswimming #soloswim #swimbuoys #swimbetweentheflags #swimsafe #jellyfish #swimrobe @booicorestore #skinswim #outdoorswim #iloveorange #swimyourselfhappy #getinthesea #saltedwellbeing #stillsmiling
There has been progress since the Fish that forgot how to swim.
Today I did a solo swim around the buoys.  I am feeling very proud of myself as I am not a solo swimmer. Seabirds swim in flocks. The other seabirds opted for a parallel groyne run but I was desperate for a long ‘proper’ swim. I was going against the formation.
I was provided with lots of Seabird support and encouragement to give it a go. The Sea Front Office boat was patrolling with a crew and helm that I knew. In reality it’s no different to swimming with others. You can’t chat when you have less than a second to take a breath. But something about knowing there is a Seabird nearby gives you confidence to venture further away from the shore.
So after a quick cheerio, I set off! After a short moon dip on Tuesday night and sharing the water with 30 kids yesterday and Wednesday I actually welcomed the solitude and only got spooked once by a fish. I was quickly in a one, two, three, breathe hypnotic peaceful rhythm.

As is usual, I chose the wrong direction to swim. Even after my Tidal Walk lesson. In my defence, the Lifeguard on post went for a swim during her break and swan the same way….so I just assumed she had opted for hard start and easy finish.  Obviously not. It was a really hard leg home against a current pushing me out and west when I wanted to swim in and east. Took what felt like forever. Sandy bottom view was beginning to get monotonous.

There was a lovely welcome home crowd. A couple of Seabirds frolicking in the shallows but also lots of teeny tiny jellyfish attracted to the movement of my hands. Took a while to see them as so translucent and super speedy. Think they may have been stinging me which felt like tickles. Wikipedia tells me they are baby moon jellyfish. I was transfixed for ages watching them.

So 4 hours later and I am still smiling. Smiling because it was a lovely swim in crystal clear turquoise warm water. Smiling because the jellyfish were so cool and I felt like I was in an episode of Blue Planet. #doitfordavid. But most of all smiling because this seabird swan solo. She broke the flock formation, came back and it reformed on the beach post swim with a cup of tea and a picnic. I can do it!

The fish that forgot how to swim – how this seabird forgot to practice what she preaches

It’s been days since I have been in the sea. Even for a paddle. My cossie lies unused in a heap on my bedroom floor. My googles are stiff and brittle from under use. I look longingly at the Seabird’s Facebook posts and Instagram feed of wonderful sunny dips in crystal clear summer seas. But I am missing.

I have long talked about the benefits of skin swimming all year round and will bore anyone who is willing to listen about how it has helped me personally. Please Note; I will also bore those that aren’t willing to listen. But I have stopped going in. Hardly an endorsement of my passionate belief that salt water and the Seabird flock can cure pretty much anything.

I haven’t stopped because I am scared. I haven’t stopped because it doesn’t work. I have stopped because I am busy. There I said it. I’m one of ‘those‘ people who wear BUSY as a badge of honour. You know the ones that tell you they work 16 hour days, 7 days a week. The ones that when you ask them how they are instead of replying ‘fine’ they give you their to do list or a break down of their social calendar. The ones that can’t take the two seconds required to reply ‘OK’ to your text yet their Social Media activity is ever present. You know the ones!

To be fair the busy I have been is all good busy. The eldest has navigated her way through GCSEs and Prom which I wanted to be very present for. The youngest has started heading for the hills after school on his mountain bike and playing cricket so lots of random last minute dinner time and menu changes. We are in the start up phase of Seabirds Ltd which has included the webshop launch and pop ups. A big learning curve plus a lot of marketing including writing blogs! Usual summer socials like Festivals, Fairs and BBQs. And I am free-lancing as a Surf Life Saving Instructor teaching 30+ local school kids a day some fundamental first aid and life saving skills before they break up for the summer holidays. So I am getting in the sea, but sharing it with 30+ kids isn’t exactly the salted well-being I need. Think less serene and more screams!

But it is exactly now, when busy becomes overwhelming, and the brain has too many tabs open that rest and respite is needed. For me this takes the form of  a sea swim. 10 minutes. 30 minutes. Dare I say it, an hour of sea swimming self care is long overdue.

TIME FOR AN INTERVENTION! (Of the swimming kind)

So today I have packed my swim bag! I have a ton of paperwork to catch up on today and then a Social Enterprise Start Up workshop to attend 5-8pm. (See there I go again telling anyone who will listen how busy I am!) But after that I am heading for the big blue. I have also figured out with a bit of organisation I can get in in the mornings before a load of excited school kids arrive and teaching begins.  I just need to be organised and creative with the times that I swim.  So I will be keeping a small packed swim bag with me on my travels all week and taking advantage whenever I can. There’s normally a seabird available somewhere for company but if not I am going to have to brave a solo swim. Not done one of the those before. Done skin swimming all year round. TICK. Done round the swim area buoys. TICK.  But never swum alone. I think it is time to give that one a TICK.

As Dory would say…………just keep swimming……………..

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am a Tidal Bore

My place in the seabirds flock has always been the one to work out which direction to swim in. Not only is this because I am bossy but because I am a science geek and am slightly obsessed with tides and waves. However, I get it wrong as much as I get it right. Follow me, when we swim,  at your own discretion. So a while back, whilst I was I was searching for my next read I stumbled across The Book Of Tides by William Thomson and hoped it may explain why sometimes the sea really wasn’t flowing in the direction I though it would.

I read it in a day. A cold wet Sunday spent on the sofa under a blanket with the most beautifully illustrated book you can imagine. Some of the information contained within I knew as it is included in my Surf Life Saving training, but much of it I didn’t. Ocean and sea occurring phenomenon like rip currents and  eddys are simply explained and accompanied by wonderful illustrations. By his own admission, the author is not specifically trained in Oceanography but has gained his knowledge through a passion for the coastline, the sea and reading, researching and chatting to other coastal dwellers whilst travelling around in his van. His Tide Maps are not just a visual explanation but literally a work of art – you can commission a tide map for anywhere in the world.

Once I had finished the book, I did what all modern day readers do. I posted a picture of it on Instagram . And received a reply from @TidalCompass the author’s IG persona, informing me that he runs Tide Walks and there would be one in Brighton in the coming months. Naturally I booked myself and another Seabird on!

Whilst we waiting for the date of the Brighton Tide Walk I kept swimming with the seabirds boring them all with my knew found knowledge. Hence the nickname Tidal Bore. Five of us spent a sunny Sunday swimming as hard as we could against the flow of a spring tide flow only to find ourselves stationary in the water. Due to the conveyor belt swimming it meant we could get out exactly where we had set off. An efficient use of the tidal flow.

On the day of the Tide Walk, we met at Brighton Beach Bikes to the west of the Palace Pier. It was fully booked with 20 participants, many of whom were regular and local sea swimmers.  We walked west and stopped every few hundred metres for William to explain various bits of sea knowledge. He explained how a tide wave travels around the UK and that it’s peek and trough creates High and Low tide. This was visually demonstrated with a length of rope.  Details were shared on slack tide, frequency of spring tides and the phases of the moon. Again props were used to enhance the transfer of information. Swell and wave formation. Rip tides and eddys. And lots more including the effect storm surges and perigee phase of the moon can have on the height of tides.

It was a brilliant 2 hours spent on a sunny Saturday. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about their local coastline. Future walks are scheduled for  various dates across the South East and South West. I have since downloaded the Imray Tides Planner app  so that I have a better idea of tidal flow before I set out swimming. Although I may skip it sometimes and just go with the flow……………………………