March 03, 2021 7 min read
I wanted to write a slightly different blog today that takes a step back from the usual For the Love of the North content you're all used to. As many of you know, I work at For the Love of the North part time in the shop and part time writing content just like this! In my spare time I enjoy going out eating and drinking as well as taking part in the For the Love of the North book group. Over the last few months I've been trying out a new hobby, open water swimming. For this week's blog post I thought I'd give you a little more insight into my personal life and my new- questionable- hobby.
Open water swimming has rapidly become all the rage on television and social media channels. A craze that was catalysed by the third closure of swimming pools, gyms and leisure centres, open water swimming is not for the faint-hearted. Though it is a very extreme sport, open water swimming comes with the promise of miraculous health benefits such as better circulation, an increased metabolism and a stronger immune system.
In February my Mam expressed an interest in trying out this new hobby so, reluctantly, I agreed to join her in open water swimming. We are not as brave as many of the swimmers that can usually be found doing lengths in a swimming costume or speedos so we decided to purchase the cheapest wetsuits we could find, in the hope that it may warm us up even a little bit.
20th February 2021, Day 1:
Today we attempted our first ever open water swim in the North Sea (if you could even call it a swim). We decided to put the wetsuits on in the house before we left for the beach- they were a squeeze to get on and neither of us felt like the glamourous Pamala Anderson-esq surfer girl we’d initially pictured! Covering our swimsuits with a long coat we waddled to the car and hopped in to do a short drive to Cullercoats Bay. Whitley Bay beach is at the end of our street, but the tide was high, and we knew that Cullercoats would be a nice easy start for us.
We arrived at the beach and leapt out of the car onto a very cold and very windy beachy, an overwhelming feeling of nausea and regret swept over my body. Cautiously, we peeled off our warm puffer coats and slipped out of our shoes, tiptoeing down to the water edge. There were several people who had the same idea as us, however, they were clearly more seasoned open water swimmers as they dove into the water like it was nothing, moving with long strokes against the current. We, on the other hand, gasped when our toes hit the water, muffling screams and yelps to protect ourselves from sheer embarrassment in front of these professionals.
‘Keep breathing!’, we shouted at each other as we lowered ourselves down beneath the water. Submerged at last we realised it was time for the ‘exercise’ part of our newfound hobby. I don’t think either of us actually factored in the aquatic movements we would have to endure to constitute as open water ‘swimmers’, we both gasped for breath, too unfit to move against the tide. My Mam sustained an injury to her shoulder several months ago which seemed to (conveniently) flare up when she began to swim, reducing her to a mere doggy paddle which soon turned into standing stationary while bobbing up and down. I thought I was a lot fitter than I really am and tried to swim against the tide, gasping from the cold and from the irregular beating of my exhausted heart.
After what felt like a lifetime but was actually only more like 10 minutes, we had completely lost feeling in our fingers and toes (we’re going to fork out for the gloves after a few more swims). We emerged from the water, the cold air sticking to our damp, red skin. Shaking from the cold, we began to peel off our wetsuits, covering ourselves with a towel and changing into fresh clothes. This was a risky move, and I don’t think we’d do it again as we did risk flashing morning dog walkers on more than one occasion. If you’re going to try open water swimming, it’s probably best to walk or drive home a bit soggy rather than face the embarrassment of being essentially naked at 9 am on a very busy beach.
We drove home and hopped straight into a nice warm shower. This is where the real chaos started to descend. Sand. One word. Sand. Sand everywhere. Ingrained in the carpets upstairs, stuck to our bodies, stuck to the wetsuits, sand in places where you didn’t think you could get sand. We managed to hose it off as well as we could then began to wrestle with our extremely heavy, saturated wetsuits. About an hour later, most of the sand was off the floor and the initial buzz of endorphins had well and truly been and gone. Then we put on our cosiest clothes and settled down for a late breakfast of a greasy full English- we earned it, right?
26th February 2021, Day 2:
At 8 am I reluctantly pulled my phone off the charger and typed ‘Should we go before I change my mind’. This was met with a shout ‘yes’ of agreement and it was time to squeeze into the wetsuits.
We decided to walk to Whitley Bay beach this time, the tide was low, and we’d just hoovered the car. Up went the zip of our floor-length puffer coasts, my Mam even came donned in a microfibre towel- she didn’t think to get me one! We shuffled reluctantly out of the door and towards the beach. Thankfully, the sun was shining and, though it was a mere 3 degrees, it felt a lot warmer than the last time.
We arrived at the beach and, after seeing a group of swimmers, decided to walk closer towards Di Meo’s hut where, in my Mam’s words, ‘less people could see us’. I forced myself to keep walking while I slid the zip of my coat down and kicked off my sliders. I forced myself to walk closer towards the water, just keep going, I thought, don’t think about it. This is, actually, quite a good technique and soon enough I was plunged into the murky waters of the North Sea.
That was it! We were in! And, somehow, it wasn’t even that bad! We stretched out in the water, letting our limbs bob up to the surface, floating as the waves moved beneath us. We decided to flip onto our front and begin to swim, something which was still easier said than done. The sun was out in full force, hitting the water, making it glimmer and sparkle. We swam in the direction of the sun because it semi-defrosted our faces and, if you thought really hard, you could pretend you were somewhere that wasn’t Whitley Bay beach in winter.
We managed another 10 minutes of swimming and bobbing and, honestly, it was actually rather enjoyable. We swam to the water’s edge and gave 007 a run for his money tripping over stones and pebbles as we exited the sea. I actually forgot a towel, so I shoved my coat over my dripping wet wetsuit, watching longing as my Mam covered herself in her towel. We decided to avoid the al fresco outfit change this week because we were terrified of frightening any early morning joggers or dog walkers, so we did a powerwalk straight home, trying to forget about how cold we were.
This time we actually did manage to feel a bit of a post plunge buzz, we chatted excitably on our walk home and my grumpy mood from before had evaporated. We walked along the backstreets of Whitley to avoid seeing anyone we knew, eventually arriving at our back gate. We entered the back yard and squelched and squeezed our way out of the wetsuits, abandoning them on the floor. We rushed inside and hopped into a boiling hot shower- not together, of course. Then, once we were warm and dry, we decided to deal with the mangled mess of wetsuit we had left on the floor. This is a much better technique for a post-swim shower but there was some sand still in the shower because I washed my sandy sliders and bikini in with me. Nevertheless, it was a lot less chaotic than before, and I didn’t have to hoover every inch of upstairs which was an added bonus. This week’s post-swim breakfast was a bao bun from Pabloeggsgabao- a well-deserved treat.
27th February 2021, Day 3:
We were ridiculously keen at this point, all it took was one good experience and we decided we were fully-fledged swimmers (side note we haven’t been since). We woke up for an 8:30 swim, slipped into our wetsuits and zipped up our coats.
We decided to do another swim at Whitley Bay, more for ease than anything else. Thankfully, the sun was out again, but it was a lot colder than the day before. We skidded across the stones and wandered to the water’s edge. This time I wasn’t waiting for my Mam for fear that I’d change my mind, so I bounded into the water, squirming as the cold sensation washed over my lower body.
I always find it difficult to catch my breath when I first get into the water, so I tried to take long, slow breaths as I began to lower myself down under the water. Once I caught my breath, it was time to swim, something which I actually think I’m- very slowly- beginning to master. I keep my head up when I swim and tend to do the kind of breaststroke you see old women doing on holiday, though I’m not quite as graceful. Again, the sun was beaming down on my face as I swam, a sensation I could really get used to. When we both began to freeze over from the outside in, we flipped onto our backs to float upon the water, attempting to pretend we were abroad on holiday.
Another 10 minutes was up, and we rushed out of the water, quickly shoving on our coats to shield from the wind. The buzz was definitely happening and, once again, my early morning sulk had disappeared. We waddled up to the promenade and began shuffling home. We took a lot longer to return home this time and I had made the mistake of not bringing socks or proper shoes, so the circulation in my feet began to cut off, putting a huge dampener on my post-swim buzz. Eventually, we made it back home and it was time for the military operation of de-wetsuiting and showering. Once we were warm and dry, we settled for a breakfast of hot coffee and a slice of avocado toast- which was surprisingly healthier than our previous post-swim feasts.
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