The Sea is a force of nature. Yes, I meant to capitalise that S in Sea. I find it easier to think of the sea as someone I know, maybe a sister. She’s tempestuous, changeable, irritable, flighty, trixy, sneaky, fun, exciting and I love her.
Bearing in mind the above, attempting to swim any kind of distance in that environment will be a challenge. I know that’s what makes it exciting and alluring to some people (alluring, that’s another Sister Sea quality!) but it can cause trouble to the unwary swimmer. It's important to watch the sea. You hear stories in the news of people getting pulled out to sea, or others trying to help and getting into trouble themselves. The sea doesn't care about you, or how good a swimmer you are. You are a visitor in the water, and you need to respect it and learn about it (just like a big sister, she deserves your respect).
I speak from personal experience with this as I have been tossed around by the sea, and I thought that was it for me. Ironically, I was about four foot from the shore, walking back to the beach. I’d been swimming most days for about a month, and thought I’d got an understanding of the sea. My pal and I had popped out for about 20 minutes and thought it was too wavy. We’d played in the waves for a bit and then decided to call it a day. I turned my back on the sea for a few seconds, and a massive wave knocked me over. I tumbled around almost in slow motion, I could see my feet go over my head, and for a moment I thought “this is it, I disrespected the sea, and now it is taking me away”. The sea slammed me down and I grabbed a hold of the sand and clawed my way out of the surf. Luckily I managed to get to my feet again, and get out of the water. It took me a while to get my breath back, and I hurt my ribs somehow. Many people might take this as a sign that sea swimming was not for them, and given it up as a lost cause. Normally this would have been my response, I’m not an adrenalin junkie, do a near death experience is a no-no for me! So you can imagine the surprise I felt when I found myself pulling on my cozzie at 7am again the next day, and heading back out to the beach!
No two days are the same with sea swimming. Even the most seasoned swimmers will agree with me. One of the regular people I swim with (a man who has swam the channel, and swims every day), actually experienced a new type of current in the sea just last week! He was really surprised, but had a good story to tell afterwards! I'm a a bit of a geek, so I regularly look at surf reports, weather reports and photos of high and low tide. I’m interested in weather and I like to know what the tide is doing before I go into the sea. However the best thing to do is take some time before you go in, on the day, just watching the sea and seeing what it does.
I always arrive early for my morning dips, and before I go in I take the time to stare at the sea, watching the sets of waves, checking where the rips were (most of the other swimmers in my group do the same). So I know that there is space after waves have gone for me to get my feet under me and stand up (I’m going to do another separate post on actually swimming through waves and how to get in and out under them). It's important to be aware that the sea changes, from day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute. Keep watching, feeling, and even listening. Once you're in the sea there are other things to pay attention to, you can be happily swimming away, look up and you're 50 meters further away than you thought you were. Also there are other things in the sea (obvs) boats, surfers, kayaks, seals, fish, jellyfish, kelp, rocks, rope, lobster pots and buoys and of course the occasional piece of rubbish. The more informed you are, the more comfortable you will feel when you are in the water.
I feel like perhaps this post is a bit alarmist. The last thing I want to do is put people off giving outdoor swimming a go. It’s a wonderful thing to have in your life. Sea swimming is a fun and importantly, free hobby! I wouldn’t expect you to know all the stuff I’ve mentioned above before your first swim. I’ve come to learn this in the last 6 months. I’m sure I’m going to learn lots more (hence this blog!). However if I’m honest the first dip into that wild water is so exhilarating that you will instantly become addicted, and want to know more about it anyway!
Hints and tips:
Respect the sea.
Use all your senses to decide what it’s doing. If it smells like sewage, don’t go in!
Be sensible, if the waves are ten foot, you’re probably gonna have to give it a miss.
Get informed; use all resources available to you, other swimmers, surfers and kayakers have a wealth of information. Read up on the internet about your swimming spot, and also read up on how to get out of trouble (just in case).
Keep an eye on this blog for more helpful hints and tips!!!