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Swiming In British Seas: A Simple Guide

A generation or two ago, foreign holidays were for the rich only. Everyone else took their holidays on British beaches and swam in British seas. Then came the advent of cheap Mediterranean package holidays and somewhere along the way a particularly pernicious myth (which I’ve been encountering recently on Twitter) grew up among the people of these islands.

That British seas are too cold to swim in.

Well that’s bullshit. I’m a wuss, and I find swimming in the sea to be an enjoyable and refreshing experience. So I thought I’d present a simple guide here.

By the way, when I say “swimming” I don’t literally mean swimming. I tend to spend most of my time wading around, just enjoying being in the sea. By “swimming”, I’m simply referring to spending some time in the sea.

WHAT YOU NEED

  • Swimming costume / trunks / shorts (unless on a nudist beach, in which case feel free to wave your bits about).
  • [optional] Plastic shoes recommended if you’re on a pebble beach.

That’s it. In particular, you don’t need a wetsuit. If you were thinking of purchasing a wetsuit ask yourself the following questions:

1) Is the weather cold? (i.e. If people are walking around the streets in t-shirts – then it clearly isn’t cold).

2) Am I going surfing?

3) Is the swimming just a warm-up activity, after which I will pull on a mask and head into the dodgier parts of town to fight crime?

Unless the answer to at least one of those questions is yes, then put the neoprene down.

PREPARATION

Before entering the sea (but after getting changed, obviously) it’s a good idea to put on some suntan lotion, particularly around the face and neck.

ENTERING THE SEA

By far the most difficult part of swimming in the sea is the transition from being out to being in. Once you get used to it, it’s lovely, but the transitional period is…

Well as Wil Wheaton (@wilw) would no doubt say (quoting from the Simpson), “I’m not going to lie to you Marge, it’s going to be bloody cold!”

When you first wade into the sea, the sensation of cold will quite literally take your breath away. This is the point at which many people, assuming it will stay that cold, give up.

Which is a shame. Because what I find truly incredible about swimming in the sea is the speed with which your body not only gets used to the temperature, but starts to positively like it. At least it will, if you give it the chance. What you have to do is this:

1) Keep wading rapidly into the sea. Do not stop or pause!

2) As soon as the water gets to a little bit above your waist, drop right down to submerge your body and arms up to your neck.

3) Start making paddling motions with your arms.

If you do that, the process will be as follows:

At 5 seconds in, you’ll be gasping with the cold.

At 30 seconds in, you’ll be starting to think that it’s not too bad after all.

At 60 seconds in, you’ll be thinking how lovely and warm it feels.

The really bizarre thing is that once you get used to it, you have to stay submerged up to your neck, because if you stand fully up and expose your chest to the air, the exposed skin feels really cold.

And when you come out, you feel lovely and refreshed.

Trust me.

4 Comments

  1. Spatula

    Isn’t a sudden feeling of warmness one of the signs of hypothermia?

    • Jonny Nexus

      Well yes, I suppose, if you are actually getting hypothermia. If, say, you’d been floating around the North Atlantic in December in sixty minutes then it certainly wouldn’t be a good sign.

      But if it’s a nice, hot, sunny, July or August day, in the English Channel, and you’ve been in the sea sixty seconds, I think it’s more likely to be just your body getting used to being in the sea.

      🙂

  2. Simon Proctor

    ‘Unless the answer to at least one of those questions is no, then put the neoprene down.’

    I think you just broke my, admittedly small, brain. Shouldn’t that be yes not no?

    • Jonny Nexus

      Erm, yes.

      Let me change it. 🙂

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