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Have you ever walked along The Hoe in Plymouth on a cold windy day and spotted the swimmers in the sea? Have you ever seen these amazing people and thought to yourself, ‘I’d like to do that as well!’ I know I didn’t. I had no plans to start wild swimming but if there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the last couple of years is this, never say never!
When the first national lockdown came suddenly into our lives, I, like many other small business owners, found myself with an abundance of time. More than I’d had for years! Weddings, events, and all social occasions were cancelled. Liberty-Pearl Photography came to a complete stop. No income or idea when life would get back to normal.
However one of many positive effects of lockdown was wild swimming. I’ve always had tremendous respect for those brave enough to swim in the sea or in open water on Dartmoor but I never felt the motivation to pursue it personally.
But after months stuck at home with the kids, it’s surprising what you’re prepared to do to get some alone time!
There’s nothing like doing it the hard way. It would have been so much easier to start my wild swimming adventure in the summer but not me. I waited until I was at breaking point in December before joining a friend down at Plymouth Hoe East beach, an absolutely amazing location, for a very cold morning swim.
Wow. I was hooked immediately.
I remember the sudden rush as my body connected with the freezing cold water. The excitement. The challenge. My senses were heightened like never before – thoughts were crystal clear. I don’t remember ever feeling so present – so in the moment.
The experience changed my life. I wanted to share my experience and needed to tell more people about the amazing health benefits. So I decided to do a documentary photography project to capture the many faces of the incredible wild swimming community here in Plymouth.
The wild swimming community here in Plymouth is a very welcoming scene. There’s a huge sense of comradery and support amongst the swimmers. The project was about capturing the personalities of the community but also providing that sense of joy and excitement you experience when taking part in a wild swim.
Nicola Lilley has been wild swimming for three years and says, ‘I love the outdoor environment. The feeling of water on my body. The mindfulness of only thinking of one thing.’
Mindfulness and an overwhelming sense of calm is definitely a running theme amongst wild swimmers.
The three ladies in these shots, Clare, Karen and Lydia all have their stories to tell. Claire says, ‘It helps me de-stress, and clear my head from working in the hospital. I feel so refreshed afterwards. We have a good laugh whilst out swimming as well!’
Karen has been swimming for over a year now and loves how it helps her release stress and is such good exercise. Lydia says ‘it’s so calming and helps with my illness.’
Susan and Kim have both been wild swimmers for over seven years now and have experienced the positive effects it has had on their mental health. Susan experiences a clear sense of freedom when swimming and thinks it’s a fabulous stress buster! Kim loves the sea views and the friendliness of the community.
‘We have met many like-minded people along the way from all sorts of backgrounds and careers, some of which are now treasured friends.’
Wendy, who has been swimming for 64 years! and Zena the dog also love the sense of freedom.
‘Zena loves the ocean. She gets so excited as soon as she sees the sea. We swim together daily and love every moment of it.’
I asked Julie Howes to tell me what wild swimming means to her.
‘Friendship and sea smiles. It changes my mood. Resets me. The cold makes me feel alive!’
Julie’s friend Ness Noodle loves the tingling sensations. The coldness. She’s able to empty her mind and completely focus on the present. Ness says, ‘I love that feeling afterwards when I’m dressed and looking out to the horizon with a hot drink in my hand and a warm robe over my shoulders. It just raises a smile to my face.’
Amanda says ‘It’s peaceful and mindful. Freezing cold then scaldingly warm which gives me a tingle and a buzz afterwards. The Hoe has a faded glamour and looks so lovely from the sea.’ Amanda also enjoys a bit of night swimming and says, ‘Swimming at night is magical.’
Helen Neilens has been swimming for over four months now and thinks it’s refreshing, exhilarating and relaxing all at once. ‘You can do it anytime,’ Helen says. ‘Everyone you meet is smiling and happy to be there! You forget everything else going on in your life and appreciate all around you.’
It was so amazing to photograph these people and find out what motivates them to wild swim and the benefits it has on their wellbeing. I know how much it has affected me personally and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Should you wait until the warmer weather has arrived or should you just take the plunge and go for it? You will need to make that decision yourself but if you want to connect with other wild swimmers check out one of the many groups on Facebook for further information.