Sport & Recreation

Sea Swimming – Healing Powers For Mind and Body

Sea swimmers of Folkestone are united.  There is nothing so invigorating as plunging into an 8° sea on a winter’s day. Open water swimming is becoming very popular, and living by the sea seems a waste not to use it.  Folkelife decided on gaining some expert knowledge on how to approach swimming in the sea.

Folkestone Sea Swimmers

When congregations allow, there’s a group of between 30 to 40 swimmers who meet at Mermaid Bay at 9.30am on a Saturday.  “There’s nothing quite like it. You know, when you meet up in a group, come rain or shine, and go swimming.  It’s quite special, it’s a special thing.” Says Peter Blach, one of the admins of the Folkestone Sea Swimmers Facebook Group.  “Everybody who goes in the sea knows how healthy it is for your mind and body. And I think everybody is keen to share that with anybody else who may want to do that. So it’s a very positive environment.

“Sometimes it can be a bit daunting if you want to go in the sea in the winter.  Having a good group to do it with is a good thing. It means that you it you’re more likely to go and do it.  I also wouldn’t recommend going in the sea in the winter on your own, for health and safety reasons. But if it wasn’t for the group, I’m not sure I’d be doing it.”

come rain or shine

If the maxim is that you’re going to get wet anyway, then it doesn’t really matter if it’s raining already.  However, whoever you speak to who has the sea-swimming bug, will tell you that even if you don’t fancy going, you never regret it.  Kirsty Hogben has just completed swimming daily for 365 days of the year.  She’s continuing her count and doesn’t want to stop.  “I was scared of it to start with, and it is quite a scary thing.  It doesn’t look that comfortable, but then neither does running!  But the endorphins you get from a swim in the sea is like no other.  The freedom you have as well, when you’re in the sea you feel more alive.  It’s trans-formative, and I feel like a different person. 

“I go down in the morning sometimes and I’m really not feeling it, yet when I come out, I’m loving it!  It’s like taking a drug, and it saves me some days. It’s like being out in nature and getting fresh air, but on a whole other level.”

Winter Sun James Willmott
Sea swimming Kirsty Hogben
Kirsty and Penny Swimming
Kirsty Hogben Sea Swimming

winter swims

There are many in the group who swim all year round, but don’t start in winter!  Kirsty started her personal challenge in July having been injured while running. “It was getting me down that I couldn’t run as I had been at marathon level.  So I was sitting on the beach one night, and that was the first day of my challenge.  I had been trying to think of what I could do.  Sea swimming is something I had done before, but only during the summer.  I thought, what about seeing if I could swim for 100 days in a row.  Once I’d got to 100, I wanted to continue…

“By the second hundred it was getting cold and wild, so I changed location to Mermaid Beach.  I also got myself a wetsuit which made it better!  Swimming here I discovered all these amazing people were there doing the same thing.  It was a challenge every day, and sometimes I wasn’t in for long.  I just kept doing it, no matter how hard it got. 

“Being a runner, I was quite fit, but I certainly feel I have more stamina and endurance through sea swimming every day.  My lung capacity has increased, and I have gained upper-body strength too, which is hard to get when you’re running.  Doing just 10 minutes a day builds up over time.”

added health benefits

Dr Penny Sholl has been swimming since before she could walk.  Growing up in Suffolk, her mother felt the need to teach the young Penny to swim as she had a habit of crawling into the sea for entertainment.  Penny has continued to swim, and now that work pressures have eased due to semi-retirement, finds she can swim most days.  “I have to admit, when I’m sitting in my warm bed, reading the paper, I do wonder why I would want to go out in the rain for a swim, but I never regret it.  The endorphins – those happy hormones – sea swimming releases seems to be more than any other sport I’ve tried.  I’ve suffered from depression over my life and I know what that feels like.  This certainly has helped me through the past few months as it’s such a wonderful feeling. 

“About 5 years ago I was seeing the specialist as I have a dodgy knee.  The x-rays didn’t look good and I was in a lot of pain.  That’s when I really started up my sea swimming again on a regular basis.  After 6 months, I returned to the doctor to find the x-rays looking even worse, but the pain was subsiding.  I now have no pain at all.  I will eventually need a new knee, but why operate when I’m not suffering any pain?  There doesn’t seem much point!  Both my doctor and I put the improvements down to regular sea swimming.”

all sorts of people

“The wonderful thing about Folkestone, and the community of swimmers we have, is that you meet so many interesting people, from all walks of life.”  Continues Penny.  “We stay in for about 30 to 40 minutes during the summer, but in the winter it’s not as long.  You have to be careful, because, although it feels great, you can get cold.  It’s easy to turn hypothermic without realising.  In the winter, I also wear gloves and boots, as well as my swimming costume, I don’t really like wetsuits.  I always wear a hat now too, but that’s just because I don’t like washing my hair every day!”

The Folkestone Sea Swimmers Facebook group has around 300 members and is very supportive of anyone wanting to take advice before their first plunge.  The most popular place to swim is Mermaid Beach which is below The Leas in Folkestone.  Do make sure you are with someone, and get ready to feel the rush of endorphins!

Photo credits: James Willmott, Peter Blach, Kirsty Hogben, Joanne Purkis.

Penny Sholl Credit Peter Blach
Sea Swimming Kirsty Hogben Feet
Folkestone Sea Sports – Come and give it a go!
Sponsored Sea Swim – Jessica Hynes and Raga Gibreel
Learning To Sail In Folkestone
Peter Blach – Filming in Folkestone

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