by Sarah Philp
Who is that woman swimming in the sea? It can’t be me because I’m not a swimmer. I’m not an outdoorsy kind of person and I certainly don’t swim in the sea.
I don’t swim in the sea when I’m on holiday, ever! Well ok I did once in Barbados, but the water was so clear and warm it was like getting in the bath. I’ve always said the only kind of water I like to spend time in is the warm, essential oil kind. I’ve certainly never thought of myself as a swimmer.
Back in February I joined Anna and small group of women on a WanderWomen adventure in East Lothian. As part of the experience there was a sea swim, I had no intention of doing, because you see, I’m not the kind of person that would ever swim in the sea. I was quite happy to sit on the rocks, watch them and take some photos for them. Little did I know that this would be the start of a growing fascination with this sea swimming malarkey. A fascination with something I said I would never do, I’ve said it to so many people.
I’ve always loved the beach. I love walking on the beach in any weather. I love the sound of sea, how it changes from moment to moment and how it’s never the same twice. I just don’t want to be in it.
Fast forward to July and I was on a yoga retreat in Portugal. My friend Louise was in and out of the sea on our days at the beach. The beaches were magnificent, miles of sand, great ragged rocks and sea stacks, warm sunshine and no people. I still didn’t go in the sea…
One day our conversation came round to chatting about sea swimming and I talked about the WanderWomen experience and how so many people I know seem to swim in the sea in Scotland in all weathers. At the same time we were also reflecting on how much had changed since we were together on the retreat the previous year. The fact that I was about to reduce my hours at work and set up my own business being the most tangible and significant change for me. As we said our goodbyes she said I can’t wait to hear about your sea swimming next year. It was a shared understanding that this would be a goal I set myself. Perhaps because I had done so many things that year that I never imagined I would do.
The week I officially ‘launched’ my own business a card arrived from Louise to wish me luck and it was accompanied by a book of short stories about outdoor swimming. So I spent a wee while lurking on social media and watching the WanderWomen introductions to sea swimming and decided this was the time I had to do it. I booked myself on and was treated to a beautiful sunny autumn morning.
To say I was petrified is a fairly accurate account of my state that morning. I have a great respect for the sea which is borderline fear. I couldn’t quite get my head around why I had thought this was a good idea. Of course the reason was simple, I knew if I could do this I could do anything. If I could do one thing I believed I would or could never do then I can do anything.
I’m not going to lie, the water was cold. The experience was both painful and soothing, shocking and calming all at the same time. I don’t know how that’s possible but it was. It’s hard to explain but that first swim felt like I shed a few layers or let the tide take the things I no longer needed, the things that I had been holding on to but no longer needed and were no longer serving me. I was so surprised that I’d done it that I actually went back and did it again the next day.
The second swim was as liberating as the first, there was a really peaceful moment swimming into the sun with the light hitting the water. The mist was rising over the horizon. It would have made a beautiful photo, but a photo would not have captured the true image and certainly not the moment. I use the term moment because I have no idea how long it was, time was a redundant concept.
My name is Sarah and I swim in the sea.