By: Blonde Two
Just like you, I enjoy reading what other people have to say about the outdoors and, most of the time, I find myself agreeing with what I read. There comes along the odd article however, that either brings my blood to a mild simmer or makes me laugh out loud. The one linked below had the latter effect because of its tone, choice of vocabulary (‘fashion pack’ and ‘swimwear expert’) and rather blatant attempts to sell all manner of ‘vital’ outdoor swimming equipment (‘I couldn’t live without my…’.) I enjoyed the impact of the laughter so much I decided to write my own version, which will only make sense if you read the original first.
Swimming is definitely NOT the new yoga – B2
Nationwide, there is apparently a boom in wild swimming but, on Torquay seafront, at 07:45 on a February morning, you would be excused for noticing considerably more bust than boom. Supposedly the ‘fashion pack’, those who don’t usually embrace the great outdoors, have now joined in but, at our sunrise steps (the sunrise is often as reluctant as we are), apart from the odd impressive hat, the clothing is all about having enough layers to stop the after-swim shivers and enough length and bagginess to hide the bare behinds. Fashion is definitely for later in the year when you might see a dash of flamboyance in a pair of mermaid coloured leggings or the odd bikini bottom frill.
Adrian McColdtoes, writer of I Prefer High Tide magazine can often be found stripping off to venture down our steps. ‘I always wear a pair of thick neoprene gloves,’ he says, except when I forget them. I find their damp unwieldiness helps to warn my hands when I am about to plunge them into the freezing brine. I also prefer shorts for the cycle home, although my knees do feel an easterly wind.
Two years ago, novelist Finnella Blondetta entered a 10K swimming event. She avoided training almost completely, mainly because splashing around in the sea and chatting to her friends was more fun. ‘I won’t be entering again,’ said Finnella, ‘I ended up swimming in someone else’s vomit and nobody prepared me for the indignity of trying to get my wetsuit off in a portaloo.’
I have swum from the Torquay steps most weekdays for two years now. My swimming friends are not experts in unusual swimwear but do a very good line in impromptu parties and railing bunting. My top tip for outdoor swimming is to get in even if it hurts, which it often does, and then get out again when it stops hurting, because that is when your body has given up sending you messages.
We share our swimming spot with all manner of sea creatures. This week a curious seal has been scaring me out of the water and, just before Christmas a dead eel wrapped itself around my ankles. As for the jellyfish, well… who knew they could be so big, or leave so many little stinging things behind in the water? We are not put off though and, even in the winter, we will occasionally think about swimming more than once a day. Where we get changed is called the Steps… because there are some steps there. We never get a honk or a wave from the passing cars but do get asked at least five times every day, ‘Is it cold?’
Sea photographer Lewlibold advises swimming with friends but warns that it can take a considerably amount of searching to find friends who will actually say, ‘Yes’ when faced with the choice between a warm duvet and a windswept, dog shit covered prom. ‘We love pod swimming,’ she says, ‘but only in the summer when we can actually get our faces into the water. The rest of the time we swear a lot and then go kind of quiet as the cold takes over.’ Lewlibold is not a fan of wearing bobble hats in the water. ‘I find that, once the bobble becomes saturated, it can act as a kind of head weight and make swimming on the surface very tricky.’
I never wear neoprene shoes if I can help it because they make my feet float and take too long to put on and take off but I couldn’t possibly live without my ancient merino vest top, which does nothing whatsoever to disguise the fact that it is far too cold, in February, to bother with a bra.
‘Swimming is definitely not the new yoga!’ says journalist and fashion designer Emmeline Wetness, ‘For a start, you don’t feel like farting every time you change position in the water.’ I agree. None of us are interested in whimsical fashion pieces or body-positivity when we are winter swimming, we all long for blankets, hot water bottles and just a few more layers of ‘bioprene’ to deal with the chill. Walking along Torquay prom is nothing like moving through an art installation, except maybe the half way square of chewing gum art and the, ‘I love Caroline’, scrawled into wet concrete the last time work was done on the crumbling walkway. Who knew that there was such as thing as a ‘wetsuit consultant‘ or that it was important to consider your ‘swimming aims’ over your chances of survival in the cold water. I certainly didn’t… and I don’t really want to find out more! Sorry The Guardian… you publish some lovely outdoor writing but the above was not my favourite example!