Catherine Brown, 48, discovered the benefits of cold-water swimming, met some like-minded ‘seabirds’, and founded a movement that’s bringing the benefits to others.
Iw as never a sporty, adventurous person. But living in Hove, Sussex, we were always at the beach, and I’d watch as my kids did surf life- saving lessons. I’d chat to other parents: maybe we should brave the water, too? It looked fun… ‘In the summer of 2017 we finally did. Everything they say about cold-water immersion is true. You get such an endorphin rush. It’s addictive and so good for body, mind and soul. We started a WhatsApp group and we’d meet up year round to go in, some people for a proper swim, others for a splash around – it didn’t matter. There was always that sense of adventure. Swimming in the sea is a joy – childlike and playful.
I Turned my Sea Swimming Hobby into a Social Enterprise Photo Gallery
SPREADING THE WORD
‘We have planned sessions or if someone’s heading to the beach they’ll just let the others know in case they want to join – there’s safety, and more fun, in numbers. When it’s very cold you can wear a wetsuit, although not everyone does. I wear my swimsuit with neoprene boots and gloves. You always wear a hat when outdoo swimming so you can be spotted in the water. I’ll head to the beach in my swimsuit with a warm robe over the top. I go in for about 10 minutes or until my hands start to hurt. Then I’ll get out, dry quickly, put on plenty of layers and pour myself some hot tea from a flask. Afterwards, I head home with a warm glow.
A couple of my fellow swimmers and I decided we wanted to spread the word about the mental-health benefits of swimming in the sea. So we called ourselves the seabirds, devised a course called Women, Wellbeing and Water, and applied for Lottery Funding to run it, which we were delighted to win. At the same time, we set up a retail arm called Seabirds Ltd to sell environmentally friendly goods such as swim robes and reusable mugs – it’s a social enterprise, so the profits go into the courses or donating to local charities.
I love how our social group has expanded. Every week I’m making new friends – total strangers are doing our courses or finding our Facebook group and coming along to discover the magical powers of the sea. We’ve recently partnered with Parkrun and, after every 5K Hove Parkrun, a group of us plunge straight into the sea to cool off. ‘Our goals for 2019 are to get some qualifications among the group, so that some of us are open-water swimming coaches or lifeguards. We also want to expand our course programme so that more and more women get the confidence to take a dip and see what that chilly, salty water can do for them.’
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