If you have ever taken the coastal path towards Felixstowe Ferry you may have noticed a sign which states, bold and unapologetically ‘Upon every wave our wellbeing rides’. Commissioned by Pier Projects (a commissioning arts agency) and created by Artist, Adam Bridgland in 2018. As a sea swimmer this sign sums up why I just can’t keep away from the salty good stuff! When restrictions have allowed, I have swum in the sea and relied on the waves to get me through this weird and challenging pandemic.
I have lived in Felixstowe for 24 years. When our children were little I would often take them paddling and would, occasionally, venture into the sea for a mini dip myself – heads-up, nervous, cautious, respectful of the beautiful North sea that takes some prominence in defining our lovely town. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago and a chance meeting with a sea swimmer, who attended one of my dressmaking classes, that I realised that ‘open water swimming’ was a sport. Sure, I recall seeing the lard smothered swimmers on their way into the murky depths of the English Channel on Jim’ll Fix it or Record Breakers, I am a child of the 70’s. A successful English Channel crossing used to make the news back then. I had no idea that open water swimming was the accessible, inclusive, sport it is or what joy sea swimming could bring to my life. I also had no idea of the amazing swimming community, Felixstowe Swimscapes Open Water Swimming, we have here in Felixstowe, set up in 2012 by Seamus Bennett – find them on facebook.
I wonder if you have ever noticed, BC (Before Covid) the cloak bearing, bobble hat wearing, thermos clutching folk herded together on the prom, particularly early in the mornings. If you have, I might well have been there, post swim; giggling, rosy cheeked, possibly shivering but always smiling. I’m now in my third season of winter swimming. Dressed only in one cap, a pair of goggles and a memade cozzie I march into the murky waters to receive the therapeutic benefits of cold water immersion. It can sometimes be a test of fortitude, fitness and tenacity depending on the distance I want to cover or the temperature of the water, or both. The physical benefits of swimming are well documented but the unexpected benefits of sea swimming in cold, very cold, water are not so widely known. It suits me to put myself in a position where the only thing I have the capacity to think about is the stroke I am making and the breath I am taking to help propel me back to the safety of the shore and the comfort of crocs and my cozy cloak waiting for me on the beach. It gives me a break from my busy life running a Sewing School (actual or virtual), producing commissioned work, designing craft kits, professionally knitting, being a mother, wife and friend. I swim most days and most days I will have a little chat with passers by. Promenade people are so friendly in Felixstowe. When I’m getting ready to swim folk will often call out either ‘you must be mad!’ or ‘is it cold?’ or ‘I’ve heard it’s good for you’. When they talk to me after a swim it’ll be ‘you must be mad’ or ‘was it cold’ or ‘rather you than me’. What is common in all of this is the genuine interest and support shown by people. I don’t swim to court the admiration of passers-by but it is marvellous having a little chat with them and giving them an insight or even encouragement to start sea swimming themselves. I swim because it keep me sane in a time when we have all had to face unforeseen challenges, in our personal and professional lives. For some the soothing effect of playing music or gardening, cooking, knitting, brewing, riding a bike, taking a walk, reading a book, completing a jigsaw has become essential. Whatever the activity which allows us to calm ourselves and occupy our mind away from what has felt, at times, a chaotic and threatening period, is critical. I hope that folk continue to go their ‘happy place’ and carry on with their new found hobbies to calm the mind and soothe the soul once we have returned to a new normal. It may not be 2.5 degree salty water that does it for you but each to their own.
More swimming adventures to follow……