I've come to outdoor swimming late; I've always been a mountaineer and outdoor enthusiast, but as you'll see from my Instagram handle in the title and below, I've been about all things mountain.
My route to outdoor swimming (quite literally) was a one off cycle to my beach a couple of summers ago. I had a secondhand wetsuit and borrowed a set of goggles and just gave it a go!
I didn't know anything about swimming in the sea (other than it was bloody cold) and even less about tides / safety equipment / jellyfish / the health benefits etc... I always saw the sea as a vista to look out upon when running along the coast, rather than something to explore.
I was a solo swimmer; I had no intention of swimming with others and didn't see the point. Over time, whilst sitting overlooking the bay after a swim, I got chatting to another swimmer and she introduced me to their little group of swimmers. They invited me to come along to one of their 'swimbles' and I agreed and it was (for me anyway) transformational! I realised that there was so much more to sea swimming with others that I'd missed out on!
The camaraderie and shared experience that I'd always had when out mountaineering or climbing a big peak, was here, but in a different form. This time it was the shared experience of hitting the cold water or heading out past the piers or seeing your first jellyfish.
There was also the anxiety and fear; I'll never forget the first time I swam the width of the bay (only 250m) or the first time I swam out of the piers or to a different part of the coast.
The scariest thing (which happens every year) is the first time you do a 6am swim and it's still pitch black! I have to have a little word with myself every time I go into the water on those dark mornings!
The odd swim every now and then turned into an everyday habit (dare I say addiction) and over time I began to learn more about the things I'd not understood; I learned about the tides, about cold water shock, the dreaded after drop (it's not so bad), non-freezing cold injury and the importance of post swim cake!
Mountain books gave way to swimming books as I swotted up on my new passion (and continue to do so). That was when I realised that I needed to make myself more visible in the water and give myself some additional buoyancy. All of the group I swam with were using tow floats, so I asked them about theirs; borrowed a couple, did some research and bought my first - the Swim Secure Wild Swim Bag! I've eventually ditched my wetsuit!
Now, as a 'seasoned' member of our little swimming community (we have over 300 members) I arrange swims for new swimmers, chat to them about all the things that I didn't know about, ask them if they've thought about having a tow float and deliver swimming-related first aid training for those who are interested.
Being by the sea during lockdown has been such a blessing; both for me and for my kids and I really do think that the daily dose of vitamin sea has helped me physically and mentally!
But, the sea is only half the story, it's definitely the community spirit amongst the swimmers that makes the experience so enjoyable.
If you'd told me 3 years ago that I'd be a sea swimmer I would never have believed you; but you're more likely to find me in the bay now, rather than running around it!