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I think more people could be a better version of themselves by discovering the freedom and joy of splashing around in the sea.

Why the sea’s embrace is so alluring

Winter swimmers don’t need science to tell them the benefits of plunging into cold water, they live them. Sarah Corrie spoke to five Hastings and St Leonards swimmers to find out how going in the sea is improving their mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing.

Our bodies have an extreme reaction to being immersed in cold water. Our heart rate and blood pressure increase and our adrenal glands release a stress hormone called cortisol. But our bodies adapt and if we go in regularly, these effects quickly reduce.

The cold water also causes the brain to release endorphins, which provide pain relief and give a sense of euphoria. When you add in the sense of community that comes from sharing the experience with others, you’ve got a whole lot of factors that are likely to make you feel better.

What struck me most as I spoke to each of the people below was how happy they sounded to be alive and how during this time of not being able to touch one another, the sea is giving them the hugs they need.

Wendy Goodsell (54)

There’s something that the sea gives you which is difficult to pinpoint. A sense of pure joy and freedom amidst all this madness. When you get in, it’s like it envelopes you in a big hug. When you get out you’re walking taller because you feel free.

I started going in seriously in August last year. The Bexhill SeaGals are the most amazing bunch of ladies, great fun, supportive and non judgmental. Despite Covid we have still found ways to be a community and stay safe. I’ve had issues with body image since I was a teenager, but meeting these girls has helped me realise it doesn’t matter. Your body is an amazing thing and we should worship it and nourish it and be thankful that it is working. On New Year’s Day we did a mufti and went in starkers!

I had surgery for cancer last January. The swimming has given meaning to my life and helped mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I’ve had so much less pain. I wear a swimsuit and neoprene boots. I go in up to my waist, splash a bit of cold water on the back of my neck and then go for it. Me and my swim buddy (Sandra) went in for a sunrise swim on Christmas morning, I was in a full length red dress and she went in as an elf!

Always be mindful of the waves. One time I misjudged one and got knocked off my feet. Don’t put pressure on yourself to do more than you are physically are able. Give yourself time to get used to it.

I think more people could be a better version of themselves by discovering the freedom and joy of splashing around in the sea.

Sally Vennard (57)

I started sea swimming regularly in May last year. Someone suggested it could help with Fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia makes my whole body hyper sensitive, the slightest touch can feel painful. Being in the sea is almost like a meditation. I walk straight in, then dip myself like a tea bag. It distracts me and encourages me to think about where my body is at. Afterwards it feels wonderful.

I’m a member of the Azur swim group and The Bexhill SeaGals. Since Covid I miss the bigger crowd, hearing people laughing and screaming as they go in, their stories, eating cake together afterwards.

My best moment in the sea was on a sunrise swim in the summer. The water was just delicious, it felt like silk was being rubbed all over my body. Another time we went in and the waves were big, but not too big. I thought I could get past them, but I got pinned by a groyne. It took me a good five minutes to get out of that. I always swim with someone else and a tow float is a good idea, it helps to have something to rest against and makes it easier for people to spot you.

I have massive respect for the sea, I know what it can do and that it allows me to be a part of it feels quite spiritual.

Richard Matthews (65)

I’ve always loved swimming and I started with a vengeance this year in June. The lockdown/Covid situation encouraged me to get fitter and swimming on the doorstep seemed to be the way to do it.

I haven’t swum through the winter in the UK before. I’m finding the experience fantastic. It’s a mental challenge, but it feels great to have achieved it. I have osteoarthritis and swimming has helped with both pain and stiffness, my muscle tone has improved, I’ve lost weight and I feel fitter.

In July I swam at sunrise. It was glorious. The sun turned the sea into a multitude of molten colours. A couple of times when the waves were rough and the current was strong, I’ve thought, the sea doesn’t want me today and I’ve got out quickly.

I’m part of an informal group that swim in St Leonards and I’ve met all sorts of people that I would never have met if I wasn’t swimming. I only go in if there are other people on the beach, or in the sea. Never overestimate your own capabilities or underestimate the sea’s.

Sally Underwood (48)

I’ve always liked swimming in cold water, I used to swim in Norfolk as a child. I’ve had Juvenile Chronic Arthritis since I was 13. It causes inflammation and swelling of the joints which is painful, but when I swim I don’t feel that.

I’ve only been going in daily since early November. Living with an auto-immune disease and lockdown, it’s been an easy way to get some exercise. Swimming helps me feel energised and my mental health has improved.

I swim at Rock-a-Nore with a group called WOW (Without Wetsuits). We meet every day and encourage each other. We stay over two metres apart, but it gives a sense of

Photo by Bronte Sapswood

coming together that is good for our mental health. Once, when the tide was out, I didn’t realise the current was strong. I got swept towards the groyne and damaged my foot. This year the Lifeboat and Fishermen are giving us a talk about the tides.

Rather than a bath or hot shower straight after you swim, have something hot to eat and drink to warm you back up.

Kai Gerber (41)

This is my first year of sea swimming through the winter and I love it. During first lockdown I was looking for anything that I could integrate easily into my self care regime and I heard about the Wim Hoff method. I found the free app and since then I have practised the breathing exercises and cold water bathing everyday.

Our bodies are capable of so much more than our minds would have us believe and the benefits cannot be overstated.

I have dealt with anxiety and depression throughout my life and it has made a dramatically positive difference to both my physical and mental health. Slowly but steadily, staying focused on how great I’m going to feel afterwards, I go to waist height, take a deep breath and dip down to my shoulders. I often spontaneously erupt into laughter.

Discovering the local community of sea swimmers has been really inspiring and encouraging. In late August we swam out to the buoy and saw the sunrise from behind the pier.

My least pleasant experience was staying in a bit too long and shivering for about an hour after I got out. The sea encourages me to learn and grow which is what I want to do my whole life.

Wim Hoff says, ‘The cold is a righteous, noble and relentless force that calls forth the same qualities from us.’ Our bodies are capable of so much more than our minds would have us believe and the benefits cannot be overstated.

If you’re thinking of trying Winter swimming, please take advice from the links below.

https://rnli.org/safety/choose-your-activity/open-water-swimming#

https://outdoorswimmer.com/blogs/6-tips-for-cold-water-swimming

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Posted 12:32 Tuesday, Feb 2, 2021 In: Hastings People

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