“Wet, windy and wild but totally worth it!”
Updated: Apr 26, 2021
My views on the physical and mental health benefits of open water swimming.
By Nicola Pollard.
Cold, salty, full of seaweed, fish ridden and mostly murky … people often wonder why I jump in the North Sea at 6am in winter!
The truth is, there is no way to describe the sensation and adrenaline that the body experiences when diving into open water, unless you try it. I learnt to swim when I was three years old in the sea with my father and since then have never looked back. The power of open water adds an element of uncertainty, which over time, becomes an ‘addictive yet healthy distraction’. With pools and lakes closed throughout lockdown, a good friend of mine and I took to the sea water most mornings regardless of the temperature, weather and feeling over being overworked.
We both knew that with all of our hobbies and interests now cancelled (but with the stress of our jobs continuing) we would still need to look after our mental health and well-being. After a few weeks of stunning sunrises, swimming with wild seals and even helping to clear litter from the beach – we became completely connected with the natural environment and reaped the physical and mental benefits of open water swimming.
With open water being so unpredictable, every swim is exciting. We often swim a solid 5k or more and then play in the waves and body surf (even though we are in our thirties)! When you are submerged within the water, each stroke allows that time to reflect and truly appreciate where you are, who you are with and how lucky you are to be in that moment. A year on, still in lockdown and with temperatures reaching below 0 Degrees - we continue to swim and always come out of the water feeling reinvigorated and appreciative.
So what are you waiting for?
If you live near the sea, can be accompanied by one other person (still adhering to government guidelines) and can confidently swim then give it a go! Remember, safety is still vitally important so try and follow these tips to remain safe in open water:
Wear a wetsuit in cold waters
Wear wetsuit gloves, hoods, boots in cold waters
Take a pair of goggles
Have warm clothing and a hot drink close by for after your swim
Wear a brightly coloured hat when in the water
Tell somebody what time you are entering the water and when you return safely
Take a waterproof floated aid or inflatable bag/buoy with essentials in (water/snack/phone)
Stay close to the shore. You do not need to swim out far to swim at all. Keeping to your own depth is key to be able to rest or put your feet down for safety.
Check tides, temperatures and the weather before entering (Magic Seaweed site)
Follow the beach rules and enter the water where it is deemed safe
When the beach is lifeguarded – stick to their zones and let them know you are going for a swim
Adopt the ‘sighting’ technique when swimming to gauge where you are in the water and to check the tide is not causing you to drift.
Pick focus points on the shore to gage your distance too
Make sensible decisions – if the water looks unsafe on that day – do not enter despite the forecast. It will still be there tomorrow!
Most importantly – enjoy safe swimming!