Lynette Slight is the communications officer for the Sea section of Brighton Swimming Club, the longest running club of its kind in the UK.
“I grew up on the coast and my Mum was obsessed with the sea. I moved to Brighton eight years ago. Three years later, I had a break up and kind of lost my mind. I started to do different things to stop thinking about it. Living by the sea, it seemed obvious to start swimming.
I took a sea swimming course and it was one of best things I’ve ever done. Developing the confidence to swim in the sea was a mental challenge more than anything. I needed to adapt my technique and build stamina. Most people need to overcome one or more of the four barriers.
A lot of us think the sea is dirty. Some of us are scared of sharks. Others worry that we’ll be out of our depth, but for most of us it’s pretty simple; we don’t like swimming in cold water.
Beaches in the UK are much cleaner than they used to be. We’re lucky to have Blue Flag status here in Brighton. There has never been a documented fatal shark attack in UK waters. There is a steepish step-off on Brighton beach, but not as steep as the steps leading into a swimming pool.
I tell new members who worry about the angle of our drop-off to only swim at low tide and never when the swell is above 4 feet. Currents are something you have to watch out for but that’s later on, after you’re confident swimming around the pier. Every beach is different, with unique tidal effects, which is why it’s important to know what you are doing. Our advice is always to ask the locals and if it’s choppy, don’t swim.
The cold, well, that does take some getting used to. The best way to begin to swim in the sea is during summer. By 5pm at low tide the water has had time to warm up. In winter, it’s a different story. I didn’t get it at first. Bobbing about in cold water hoping for a miracle? That didn’t come until the second winter.
I always wear gloves and socks but I get bad stinging sensations in my feet and hands which could be Raynaud syndrome. It reduces blood flow to my fingers and toes. Many regulars just wear swimming caps. Only a few wear wetsuits. We’re not judgmental, but our perception of what is cold changes with experience.
I never jump into cold water. For me, this is water that is somewhere between three and four degrees. I walk in and acclimatise slowly. When you dive in, your body goes into shock. You gasp, your pulse rate rockets up and you can struggle to catch your breath.
If you dive in the opposite can happen. Your heart rate tanks and you feel you have to hold your breath. Which is why I prefer to walk in. Breathe slowly and deeply. It’s agony at first but I prefer to be in control of my reflexes.
A while back I had terrible back pain. The only place I could be where it didn’t hurt was in the water. Especially cold water. As soon as I got in, something eased up in my body. It completely changed my experience of the pain.
There are clearly serious risk factors involved in cold-water immersion. Professor Mike Tipton at Portsmouth University is the leading expert on the impact of cold-water swimming on the body. Naturally he cautions against cold water shock and the associated risk of cardiac arrest, hypothermia and drowning but he also highlights the evidence supporting a number of health benefits.
Our members all say that swimming in the sea helps them cope with stress. They tell me they feel really ‘alive.’ We have other members who tell me it helps combat inflammation and swelling after too much high-impact exercise on land.
We have quite a few women over the age of forty. I think the biggest benefit I’ve seen is around the menopause. It helps them to find their centre. A lot of the benefits I feel are simply around breathing. Learning to regulate your breath. Learning how to breathe as we move forwards.
Arm, breathe. Arm, breathe. Arm, breathe.
To learn how to swim in the sea contact: http://www.pool2pier.com/
To learn if a beach is clean to swim visit: https://www.blueflag.global/
To find more details of Professor Mike Tipton’s pioneering research at Portsmouth University visit: https://theconversation.com/profiles/mike-tipton-126444