We Came, We Swam, We Conquered

On World Mental Health Day, a reflection on our Women, Wellbeing and Water courses. We are all water warriors in our own way. Salty Seabirds swim group was set up as somewhere to signpost people that self identified as having mental health or wellbeing issues. A safe haven for them to enjoy the sea.

For as long as we have been swimming together, Catherine and I have talked of making the sea accessible to others. In the sea, where all the best ideas are borne, we came up with Women, Wellbeing and Water. A course aimed at giving women the confidence to get in the sea for respite and relaxation and to escape the day to day. 

With the help of a National Lottery grant and funding from Paddle Round the Pier Charity Festival, we have been able to turn our talk into action. We have the beaches of Brighton and Hove on our doorstep but it is still under-utilised by so many. The idea was to help women that wouldn’t normally have the confidence to don a swimsuit or wetsuit access the benefits of sea swimming that we have both experienced over the last few years. We know how much sea swimming has helped us and people around us, to get through some difficult times.

We ran a pilot session in September 2018 after funding was secured, which allowed us to try out our ideas and gain valuable feedback from participants. Then in June this year we launched our first course. All swimmers on the course were referred to us by Brighton Housing Trust’s Threshold Women’s Services. The service supports those with issues including anxiety, depression, self-harm, low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, parenting issues, birth trauma and perinatal depression. The demand for the course was high and it was full within 24 hours.

We very much intended the course to be participant led, free from arbitrary goals. As part of the pre-course paperwork we asked them what they hoped to gain from the course. We knew our aims, what were theirs? Confidence was a reoccurring theme.

Greater confidence around other people and in the water particularly. More knowledge about being in the water and it’s benefits.”

“Confidence and resilience”

“Confidence and company”

“The confidence and momentum to swim regularly in the sea”

“Happiness, enjoyment, confidence”

And this aim really struck a chord as it echoed our reason for swimming in the sea!

“Positive mental and physical wellbeing and a return to who I truly am rather than the stressed version of my current self”

 

After our pilot session we were contacted by Dr Heather Massey from the University of Portsmouth. She and her colleagues are working on a research funding application to investigate the use of outdoor swimming for depression. As a result they need as much controlled quantitative data as possible relating to ‘new’ swimmers. If you ask an existing wild swimmer if they think it has a positive impact on their wellbeing they are liable to wax lyrical for what seems like forever. What Heather and her team need is data relating to swimmers that identified as having wellbeing issues and were ‘new’ to sea swimming. So our swimmers completed questionnaires before their first swim, after their first swim at at the end of the course to measure any changes in their levels of wellbeing, which we hope will provide more insight. Whilst we understand the need for this type of data collection in the world of academia, especially if you want to effect change, we were more drawn to the wonderful anecdotal comments………

How have you found outdoor swimming?

It was amazing experience, so freezing, joyful and hypnotising. Life giving and relaxing. Friendly atmosphere and felt so looked after.

Fantastic. It has been great learning about the sea, current, tides etc but the sense of a group experiencing the water together is lovely

Life affirming. It has lifted my mood and given  the confidence and encouragement to plan on making it a regular habit.

Will you swim in the outdoors again?

Definitely yes. It was life giving experience to feel nature,  waves and still feel safe as I was look after well in the water by Cathy. I loved sound and feel of the sea, which made me feel happy, relaxed and enthusiastic. I feel energetic, optimistic included and better to deal with problems and chronic pains in the future. Thank you for a great experience.

Yes. I’ve joined the seabirds and started swimming with others. Its life enhancing actually life changing. Thanks so much!

I will definitely swim outdoors again – in fact I have already ventured in a couple of times between lessons. I feel so grateful to have had the privilege of being amongst such kind and encouraging experienced swimmers and I would really like to start meeting up. I would also like to maybe learn how to do the crawl, and would like to hear of any lessons….

The reference to swimming with others, the sense of community and connection which provided the confidence to swim in the sea. This is at the heart of the Salty Seabird Sea Swimming group. So much so, that many of our group volunteered to join the new swimmers each week to swim, guide, assist, chat with them. And drink tea and eat cake with them at the end of every session of course. It is these swimmers that encouraged the new swimmers, happy to pass on their skills and experience, happy to welcome them into our flock. As the new swimmers gained confidence, the Salty Seabirds gained new members. That was our aim. And that was the new swimmers aim.

A huge thank you to Catherine, Mel, Alex, Claudine, Emma, Maria, Sam, Hannah and  Libby. And welcome to our new Salty Seabirds.

Right time to start planning the next course………..

Moon Gazey Swims

When you live by the sea, swim in the sea, make a living from the sea, the moon has more meaning. It dictates the tides and so it dictates your day. Your rhythm becomes one with your environment.

The pull of the moon is significant in nature and culture. For centuries people have looked to the skies and found comfort in the ever present moon. It changes shape, size and location in the sky, but it is always there. As it changes so do the tides, it is the moons gravitational pull that creates the tides. Depending on it’s alignment with the sun and it’s orbital position, which is not perfectly circular, we will experience Spring, Neap or Perigean tides.

The Salty Seabird’s started doing moon swims in the autumn of last year, after a few of us read ‘Wild Woman Swimming’. The book is a selection of Lynne Roper’s memoirs published after her untimely death.  During these autumnal months the  full moon-rise  perfectly corresponds with sunset in the UK.  And the water is still warm enough to be able to bathe in it’s light comfortably. So what better time to start. As an acknowledgement to the incredible and inspiring Lynne we called them Moon Gazey Swims in her honour as this is  how she referred to them.

We are still a long way from being in Lynne’s league but we have had some memorable moon swims. The coldest was on 21st January of this year when 18 Salties took to the sea in darkness at 4.30am to celebrate the Super Blood Wolf Moon. We kept an eye on the sea conditions all week ready to make a go/no go decision and expected may be one or two swimmers. A big number of us swim in skins all year round but the air temperature plummets considerably over night and with limited vision it would making getting dressed quickly afterwards nigh on impossible. So when 18 swimmers arrived hours before dawn we knew it wasn’t just us that understood the magic on moon gazey swims.

The summer ones have since been spectacular. There was a Blue moon in May, the third of four full moons to appear in that season, which won’t happen again for another 2 years. As a play on words many of the swimmers decided to show their blue moons in the water and swam naked. Embracing their bodies and waving a big two finger salute the medias skewed view on bodies. The summer ones also invite our biggest numbers as they are in the evening which is more accessible to the masses. They are also our most diverse swims which we are keen to encourage, The name Seabirds can mislead those looking in that we are a group only for women swimmers. The moon swims show we are not, as the mermen flock to swim under her magic.

We cannot always align the time of our swims with when the moon will rise. But they are the best ones. The swimmers congregate on the beach in small pockets of people that may or may not know each other – all waiting for someone to get in first. Which is normally me. Again people form into small pockets of people in the sea – even the solo swimmers stop regularly to look to the sky when they reach another swimmer, all looking for the same thing. The ripples starts when the first swimmer spots her coming over the horizon, which steadily builds into a wave as the sound of sightings are carried over the sea. The last swim treated us to a partial eclipse and the horizon was hazy so it a took a few seconds for us to realise she was there. But there she was, the partial eclipse forming her shape into a smile.

Over the next 9 months and during the 3 previous month we have been blessed with the presence of Coral Evans at our swims. Coral is a journalist, photographer and  head honcho at Salt Images . We have long been admirers and appreciators of Coral’s work as she has the unique ability to capture the essence of her subjects. We were incredibly excited when she contact us about an idea she had for a photographic project. ’12 Moon Swims’ seeks to explore the power of women connecting and supporting each other, along with the healing qualities of the ocean and open water swimming. The project, photographed over 12 full moon swims will accumulate in a photographic exhibition in Brighton, 2020. The featured image is one of Coral’s from our last moon swim and captures a seabird leaving the sea, the old girl that is the West Pier and the partially eclipsed moon. The absolute essence of who we are. How lucky are we having the sea on our doorstep and having our moon swims recorded and presented by someone who shares our love of the sea. Who is one of us. Who is a Salty.

We are planning for our winter moon swims and how we can use lights and fire. We are a tribe and we are looking to create that vibe for swims in the dark much like Lynne did in Devon. We have the Sturgeon moon coming up on 15th August and we will swim like fish in the evening and again we will be in the water as the moon rises. Summer evenings spent swimming under the full moon are the swims when our community comes out in force and is really a sight to see. And there is something just magical about swimming before bed, getting under the covers with wet hair and salty toes. Like taking the magic of the moon swim home.

Author: Seabird Kath

 

 

 

 

Me moon – cancer – moon child moon stoneam when

It’s all in the timing – making time for a swim.

When will you have your swim today? It’s a bank holiday so the usual routine is out the window with kids and husband at home. It’s unlikely they will come with me so I need to find the balance between a lie in ( my son has promised me breakfast in bed) and swimming before the beach fills up with day trippers. I have opted for 10am at Costa Del Brunswick so it doesn’t eat into the day but the beach is still quiet as this is a city that sleeps, and it sleeps until late morning.

But what is your usual swim time?

Do you have dawn dips to start your day salty? There are a few salties that have been in, showered and started work before most of our alarms go off. We like their swim smile social media posts from the warmth and comfort of our beds. Then there is the early bird 8am crew that fit a swim in before the school run. The land has yet to warm up so there is no sea breeze and a natural off shore wind make perfect swimming conditions in the morning. The crowds are also yet to descend providing swimming solitude for those that seek it. It’s a great way to start your day. But be mindful when you are being mindful, there are no lifeguards and less people at this time of day with winds that push you further out to sea………..

Do you have dusk dips to end your day salty? After a hard days graft a sea swim can wash away the cares of the day. It is also a really good way to avoid bedtime if you have small children! The madding crowd have returned up the M23 or jumped back on the train to London. Many people have bedtime routines that include switching off gadgets or reading a book but my favourite way to wind down before bed is a swim in the sea, Better than a hot lavender bath and a horlicks. I love falling asleep salty but only really seem to manage this on holiday. Which is a good thing really as my hair the next morning should only be shared with strangers.

Then there is the daytime dippers. We are the envy of the 9-5s. We post our swimming smile pictures whilst they are chained to their desks. We are the self employed, the flexible working arrangements, the stay at home parents. We swim in between appointments, meetings and errands at the strangest of times. 10.45am on a Monday anyone? Up to 25 swimmers take you up on the offer.

I am all of the above, I swim solo early in the mornings, in large groups in the daytime and in the evenings with my husband whenever we are away. I change my swim times to suit my mood and my needs. But I always swim. Whether it’s your wake up call to start the day or your wind down after a days labour just GET IN THE SEA

 

 

 

The cure for anything is salt water

Guest blog from Salty Seabird Rowena about her sea swimming experience with us.

Guest blog by Seabird Rowena

I’ve started throwing myself into the sea… in the UK… in spring… and it’s wonderful!

Bear with me…!

 

There is something about it, when the water is around 10 degrees, that brings you uncompromisingly into the here and now – both physically and mentally.

For the first few minutes, there is little you can do but be in the moment, focus on your breathing, finding it again from where it’s been whisked away from you; experience your flesh and nerves being first bombarded with cold and then numbed by it; feel the adrenalin flowing.

For some (me included) the first minute seems to be accompanied by surprisingly guttural sounds from deep within them. It’s a different way to use your voice, a different way to express yourself, one that has no filter to it.

You know you’re completely safe, that you’re going to become comfortable, but you feel on the edge of it, outside of your comfort zone physically and maybe mentally. It’s a good place to put yourself on a regular basis.

And as you acclimatise, a smile spreads across your face. Your system settles, but the exhilaration of it remains. You’re proud of yourself for jumping in. Your body is making decisions that you feel more acutely aware of than when you’re sedentary. Your capillaries have opened up and the blood is flowing. Your limbs are abandoned in favour of preserving your core, your essentials. The non-essentials are stripped away.

You feel whole. You feel solid. You are surrounded by water, as in your most formative state.

You clamber out: connected, grounded, a little bit brave.

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Wild swimming is having something of a renaissance in the UK, and around the world. The positive impacts on our mental and physical health are moving from anecdotal to researched and evidenced.

As well as being bloody fun, and perhaps a little terrifying, it’s about moving out of your comfort zone; trying new things; stripping away the non-essentials; being brought into the present moment; the euphoria and achievement afterwards; (and getting to feel a little bit smug that you did it).

Joining a group is a great way to get yourself out there! I’ve joined one here in Brighton called The Salty Seabirds . As well as being lovely, welcoming people, their conversations about ‘arctic flaps’ (I’ll leave you to figure that one out for yourself) drew me to them! 🙂

We’re not all fortunate enough to live by the sea (I count myself very lucky), but lakes and rivers are just as exciting. There is any number of websites to inform and inspire, including www.wildswimming.co.uk

If you’re not able to swim in, or get to, an outdoors space, swimming or floating in any capacity is great for your body and your mind. Local authority swimming pools are one of the many things we can be grateful we have in this country.

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I invite you to bare with me!

You can read more of Rowena’s blogs on her site

Marine Life

Ten years ago Charlotte swam in the sea. Ten years later she has returned to her salty roots. So what has changed?

Guest Article by Salty Seabird Charlotte

Ten years ago I belonged to a different outdoor swimming group. It was a group (of mostly men) who prized distance and speed and endurance above all else. How many times you could swim round the Palace Pier. How rough the waves were. How much you had to battle the current to stay on course. I went through the winter with them (just). I didn’t enjoy it one bit. Once I had to climb up onto the barnacled struts of the Pier to find my breath again, overcome with cold, fatigue and my own overarching ambition. The last time I swam with them I actually had to be dragged out of the sea by another swimmer after I lost my goggles and a contact lens being tumbled in massive unswimmable waves. Nothing like shame to stop you suddenly in your tracks.

And now ten years later, post spinal surgery and at least two stone heavier I have found my love of the sea again thanks to the Salty Seabirds. The last ten years of my life have been about finding boundaries to protect my highly sensitive nervous system. I have realized that I do not like swimming out of my depth. I do not like big waves. I like calm seas. I like splashing about and feeling the sun on my face. I no longer feel the need to push myself to near death experiences in order to feel alive. I do however like connecting with the natural environment and I like the cold. Anything that makes me concentrate on my breath whether it be yoga or sub zero waters brings me into presence. The elusive present. And what a gift for an overactive brain that is. The cold sea brings me resolutely and immediately into my body. I have spent so much of my life not liking my body. My miraculous body that walks and eats and sleeps (most of the time) and dances and has given birth and is infinitely stronger than I think it is. Here again is a way in which the Salty Seabirds has been liberating for me. For our Seabirds come in all shapes and sizes, as diverse and beautiful as gulls and gannets and petrels and shags. And how glorious and released are their bodies in their natural habitat. I never thought I would rejoice in the thought that I am increasing my body’s brown fat (whatever that is). But I do. It is a kind and accepting group. It is community functioning at its best- everyone joined purposefully in a sole pursuit. Our tangential lives intersect for brief moments of escape.  The same faces. New faces. No questions asked. But always the same shared euphoria afterwards. For me I love the sweetness of the post swim walk up the beach. As the cold sinks through my heavy amphibian limbs, as analgesic as that first Friday night gin and tonic. I like sitting among the flotsam of our belongings. Feeling the earth beneath me, looking out to sea, thinking “I was in that”.

Note from Seabirds: We receive such wonderful positive feedback from the Salty Seabirds that affirms the need for a Swimming community group that is fluid and free from constitutions and committees. The Seabirds swim free and cannot be governed by rules and regulations. The Seabird Community are kind, compassionate and inclusive –  the sum of our parts is what makes it work. Charlotte’s experience is all too common but when the time was right we all found each other – our flock. 

 

For the love of Swimming….

A Valentines Guest Blog by Seabird Didi

In her own words “here is my loved up offering post swim….warning….it’s gushy as I’m still high on endorphins……feeling the love!”

Managed almost 7 minutes in the sea today….although a good amount of that was me squawking and backing out and just splashing my face to try and acclimatise. Because this is the thing….I have always hated cold weather and cold water….but I know how amazing I feel when I have been in………and actually I have always loved the extremes of sauna and cold water……….but it’s also more than that…..there’s something in me that just feels the pull to swim outside and dive through that cold shock and I can’t put it into words but it feels as vital and important as breath. I can happily swim for ages in warm water…..dreamily and no effort…..I’ve always considered myself a strong swimmer, very much at home in the sea. But the WINTER cold sea; that’s a fairly new and challenging experience for me.

For for about 10 minutes before I go in I am getting anxious and then feeling stupid for feeling anxious about a self imposed activity that’s meant to be fun……..everyone else is smiling and excited whereas I am gritting my teeth and trying to squash down my fears. Butterfly nerves make me jittery and a little ungrounded. Then I am standing there with my hefty frame, in just my swimsuit, feeling ungorgeous, unglamorous and quite frankly ridiculous. I’m the biggest I have ever been and NOW is the time I take this up?

At this point some beach walkers usually clock us and stop to have a look. Sometimes they take photos. My private humiliation not quite complete….I then venture down to the sea’s edge and take quite a while dithering and flapping and shrieking…….watching my friends leap and dive in with confidence and joy.

My breath catches sharply, alarmingly and I feel like I have forgotten how to breathe out. FOMO wins every time though and VERY reluctantly and in a sort of disbelief I submerge myself….I practice my long out breath…..I steady my nerves…..I find my focus and then suddenly my arms and legs are paddling like crazy and I’m properly swimming…….in the winter sea with no wet-suit…..I feel like I’m crazy wild woman and I love it…..after 2 minutes of biting, painful sensations on my skin I can feel my physiology waking up from its domestic slumber and finally I feel THAT joy. I feel like a kid again.

My body remembers ancient and primal skills and starts activating clever responses to cold stress and physical challenge that I didn’t know it had. I feel euphoric and clever and strong and free and happy. I gurn like a loon to my swimming companions and blabber a lot at them about all sorts of nonsense. I marvel in the wild untamed beauty of the sea…….I coo at my clever swim socks, that delay that numbness just enough. I look back at the shore my perspective changed and my eyes feel soothed by the vast space and innocent beauty of it all. It feels like we are protected from the busyness, out of the spinning hamster wheel for a wonderful and precious little moment.

I feel so so so grateful to live here, to have this on our doorstep and even more grateful that I have a shared love of this with friends and now a growing community of Salty Seabirds, Sea Sploshers, Kemptown Kippers and of course the amazing iSWIM crew and most of all my lovely mate Laura without whom I would not have dived in at all.

Love (and friends) and the sea is all you need

💖💖💖Happy Valentines Day Salty ones 💖💖💖

Cold Water Swimming Hack!

How to beat the after-drop after cold water swimming

Discovered a few weeks ago whilst river swimming….

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I took an isothermal bottle  full of boiling water, my daughter’s mini hot-water-bottle and two core-warmers; one cotton for next to the skin and an ultra-warm one. Once out of the water and dressed (and while my fingers still worked) I filled the hot-water-bottle with the boiling water and popped the hot water bottle into my “roo pouch” of haramakis! Together with my robe, I built up a nice, warm core, which radiated heat.  Adding tea and amazing marmalade cakes, made for a delightfully happy, post-swim seabird! Been doing it ever since to beat the after-drop

cold water hack

 

Author: Seabird Catherine