Praise Be To Sea

This will be my third consecutive winter of daily dips in the sea.

The last two winters, arriving into the office on colder, windier days, oftentimes a colleague would look at me, purple lips and white fingers shakily attempting to make a drink, and ask, “Why?”

It is inspiriting, epic, and good for the mind, body and soul.

This past week of lockdown, my days have commenced by jumping into my bathers and birkenstocks, gathering my guernsey, joggers, Russian hat and other cosy things, then my goggles, earplugs, polystyrene mat and shock-pink swim-cap (a present from Liam Senior).

The hardest part of any winter swim is conquered in the car: getting in the driver’s seat, and slowly, cringingly, leaning back into the cold leather, sending goosebumps up and down my back.

From then on, everything’s easy.

The drive to Bordeaux is just a couple of minutes.

Bordeaux, as you can tell from the banner to this blog, is a special place to me, my soul place.

Bordeaux has many guises, each glorious in its own way.

One windy, overcast afternoon this week, there were waves rolling into and bursting over the rocks of the bay’s entrance, squalls whipping through, the whole harbour’s water seemingly in a rush to be somewhere. Moody, intense, inspiring.

Dawn this morning, the water was a silken sheet, lit only by the full moon’s light, upset only by bobbing buoys, boats and my swim strokes. Epic, eery, tranquil; bathed in a lunar blaze and the promise of a rising sun.

(Just in case, so it’s out there: once my life is reclaimed by the infinite, I want my ashes swum out to Tommy Rocque at sunrise and released into the view of Herm stretched over the seascape.)

Parking up mere metres from the sea, I pop in my earplugs, don my saucy swim-cap, slip off my sandals and walk down the slipway.

No fannying around, no fuss, no drama.

The harsher the weather, the warmer the water. Some say to me that’s a mental thing. I say, everything about getting into winter waters is a mental thing. This is why I find the fetish of testing the water temperature every swim strange and unnecessary, as if it interesting, or even matters.

Rinsing and fitting my goggles, I inhale deeply, descend into the water, blow some bubbles, and wait the few seconds it takes for my body to relax and say to me, “Ahhh, I’m home.”

Then – all the faff over – swim.

Whatever is happening in your life, whatever events and thoughts and feelings you may have, are gently washed away by the cold water, leaving room for your subconscious to think deeper things, as you concentrate on your stroke, your breath, and the inspiriting sensation of being supported by and gliding through the glorious cauldron of being.

I like to close my eyes when I swim, and visualise a bird’s-eye view of my swimming body. Helps with concentrating on technique, I find. Not that I care a great deal, what really interests me is the fact one can situate awareness outside of the body and view it from afar, whilst driving the darn thing. Costs a lot of people a lot of money and a lot of drugs to get to that place, but they don’t feel so chipper afterwards.

And chipper you feel, after any time in the sea, and you get it for free.

If you’ve ever swam with me, you’ll have heard me say: many complain before a swim, so few complain after.

It is like a jogger’s high, only ten-fold, plus your joints haven’t been jarred nor dignity harmed in the process (says he, in the pink cap).

I have noticed, though, during this last month of longer swims, that anything upwards of twenty minutes, I begin to get cold once leaving the sea. (I never wear a wetsuit.)

The after-drop is real. After a swim from the Horse-Shoe to Castle Cornet and back last week, a half-hour swim a bit over a kilometre, I couldn’t sing in the the car journey home for my jaw was chattering so much.

Wrap up warm and quickly. Get the guernsey and the woollen socks and a hat on, blast the car heater, drink some hot tea, and breathe deeply. One of the bathing pools biddies, 80-something years old and still dipping daily, says you warm up from within, so get a cup of tea in you instead of a hot shower, or at least before a shower.

I believe, with concentration, you can breathe yourself warmer. If you tell me you can’t inhale warmth, you are forgetting that this game is all mental. Big, steady, epic breaths in, feeling it fire up the embers in your belly.

Wim Hof’s breathing exercises work a treat, too. I think doing this everyday is a big contributor to why I don’t shiver after twenty minute swims. I highly, highly recommend it to winter swimmers – and highly recommend it to everybody else, for that matter.

Then again, I know a lovely daily-dipping OAP who dons her dry robe post-swim, hops in her car, and lights a cigarette before she drives off. No such fuss or drama, eh.

In lockdown, with constraints on what we can do and who we can see, there is no better way to begin a day, than conquering it with a sea-swim.

Many complain before, many yelp and squawk during, and so few complain after.

4 thoughts on “Praise Be To Sea

  1. Beautifully written and my exact sentiments Liam i am totally new to winter swimming last November and you have expressed exactly how i feel. I so enjoyed reading this… Thank you ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoyed your article, sharing the positivity of vitamin sea. Yes, we all have our little funny routines. My swim budd and I do the badger dance to warm up with a water bottle lodged down our trousers! I am working on staying in longer and swimming further during the colder months. I do believe it’s mind over matter and being in tune with one’s body/breathing so will check out Wim Hoff technique, it could be useful. Thank you and enjoy the turquoise haven 🏊🏻‍♂️ ☕️ 🍰

    Liked by 1 person

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