How do you feel about swimming? In the sea? Now, in the autumn? You’re certainly not alone if your first reaction is to say, Thanks but I’ll pass. But bear with me, because if you have a keen sense of adventure and a love of the outdoors, this group of Sussex sea swimmers might just float your boat – so to speak.
I can’t say no
Being brutally honest, and although I am a reasonable swimmer who has done a bit of open water, swimming in the sea has never appealed. Unless it’s a very blue, very warm, Caribbean kind of sea. But when a friend suggested we give it a go, well, I’m not good at saying no, and as it was a couple of weeks away (and therefore not something I had really processed), I naturally said, Of course.
So to a September morning in Hove
And that’s how I woke up on a misty and somewhat parky September morning, and realised I was going sea swimming in Hove. Naturally, I scouted around my brain for any reasonably believable excuse not to go, found none, and reconciled myself to drowning or dying of cold.
Not what I expected
Not quite sure what to expect, we arrived to a small but very friendly and welcoming group of Sussex sea swimmers. That was the first of a series of surprises. I was expecting them all to know each other, to be super confident and very experienced swimmers who would take off without a backward glance as I headed to a watery grave. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.
We were all much of a muchness. New to sea swimming, nervous, not sure what to expect or even if we could actually do it. But our instructor for the day was fantastic. Rachael Hunter Dunn is an experienced swim coach for both pool and open-water swimming and she was honest, encouraging and informative, as she prepared us to get in the water.
Conquering the ocean
Thoroughly briefed and warmed up, we headed in to acclimatise before we set sail. At this stage, I should come clean and admit that we were lucky enough to have the most glorious day: the mist had lifted and it was blue skies, calm waters and sunshine all the way. I haven’t yet conquered big waves or large clumps of seaweed.
And it was epic. Using the British Airways i360 as a reference point, we swam east (against the tide to save any dwindling strength for the return swim). We made frequent stops, each found our own pace, buddied up with others and took to the waters like an eclectic pod of mermaids off to make friends with the dolphins. Between us, we had a mixture of breaststrokers and front crawlers, and that was fine as we each found our comfort zone. Then when we turned to head back to our start point, the sight of the sun hovering over the glimmering water as I took each breath was nothing short of inspirational. I had done it, and more importantly, I had loved it, as had everyone else.
But we weren’t quite out of the water, and before we were done, Rachael had us playing in the sea, with little competitions and handstands. I’m absolutely not doing a handstand, I said, a few seconds before I found my head underwater and my feet in the air.
I caught up with Rachael later to see what on earth had compelled her to chuck in a corporate career and take to the water. She explained the answer to that was simple,
“My vision for ‘IN THE SWIM at Rockwater’ was to create inclusive opportunities for people to come together, to step outside their comfort zones in a supported environment, to build confidence and knowledge in open water, make friends and have a great time. I absolutely love seeing everybody’s faces as they come out of the water and seeing them realise a new energy within themselves. It makes my job so meaningful.”
And in terms of achieving her vision, she’s certainly nailed it!
Rockwater is calling
With clothes back on and our circulation suitably restored (I’m kidding, it really wasn’t that cold), we headed off for our prize: coffee and pastries in the sunshine at Rockwater Hove (which some of us made last so long, we then stayed on for a cocktail after)! We were triumphant and Costa del Hove had done us proud.
So will I be back, even if it’s not a gloriously sunny day? Hell yes. I’m actually looking forward to tackling more challenging waters. The comfort and reassurance of a welcoming group and the experience and encouragement of our coach Rachael was fantastic and the feeling of swimming through the waves … well that was just Sussex adventuring at its best!
You can join Rachael and the gang on Tuesdays and Thursdays in front of Rockwater Hove, and you can book your session or find out more here: In The Swim
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