Why I Love ... sea swimming

To help us keep smiling through lockdown, Your Time readers continue to share their passions with us.

Here artist Lesley Warner talks about her love of sea swimming.

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Swimming in the sea is part of my identity. It is the basis for my ceramic sculptural work, a major part of my friendship and support network, and it underpins my health and sanity.

I live in Scarborough on the East Coast, the sea is just down the hill. But it hasn’t always been that way.

I remember learning to swim in an outdoor pool at my inland primary school - the pool the PTA fundraised for and the one where, if you forgot your swimming costume, you swam in your knickers and then had to wear the school emergency pants for the rest of the day. Yes, I did this!

I did learn to swim. I wasn’t a superstar, but I had a mean doggy paddle and loved it anyway.

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Swimming in cold water never bothered me. As a child on family holidays, I swam in the sea in Wales, at Lowestoft and in Brittany. As a holidaying adult, I’ve swum off the coast of Mull, Iona and Islay.

I have at least got past the doggy paddle stage. I learnt a stylish breast-stroke and side-stroke from my dad, and later learnt front crawl as an adult.

Nowadays, a day that starts with a swim in the sea is almost always better than the one that doesn’t. There’s something about being surrounded by, buffeted by, supported and held by the sea that makes it difficult to focus on anything other than the here and now.

Swimming on my back in the early morning and watching the sun illuminate the belly of a seagull from underneath in a clear blue sky. Swimming front crawl when the waves are fiercer, in water so shallow that I can reach down and touch the sand with my leading arm - going nowhere fast because, as hard as I swim, the current is in the opposite direction.

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Getting into a gentle rhythm on a flat calm sea and feeling the water flow around me as I head, stroke by steady stroke, toward the harbour.

Scarborough artist and keen swimmer Lesley Warner with one of her pieces of workpic Richard PonterScarborough artist and keen swimmer Lesley Warner with one of her pieces of workpic Richard Ponter
Scarborough artist and keen swimmer Lesley Warner with one of her pieces of workpic Richard Ponter

Standing waist-deep assessing the waves powering in, on the look-out for that elusive double wave, then body-surfing it all the way into the shore, being twisted and turned as I go.

Each swim is very different. The North Sea is always the same. And never the same.

It’s no surprise that a lot of the language around positive moods has a watery quality - feeling buoyant, having your cares washed away, being on the crest of a wave.

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Even when it spits me out at the water’s edge, the sea lifts me and my spirits. It calms, invigorates and inspires me.

But it has its dangers, its moods and its rip currents. There are days when I don’t swim because I know that I would not be safe.

I’ve read and heard too many stories about people in trouble. Which is why, during the main tourist season when the seas are temptingly warm enough to swim comfortably, there are lifeguards on the beach.

At the moment, when we’re all trying to support our frontline workers and there are no lifeguards, you should absolutely not treat the sea as merely a convenient local pool. It’s not - it is a force not to be underestimated!

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But regular swimming and paddling will return after this strange time, as will the donkeys on the beach. In the meantime, walk yourself down to the beach - if you live within walking distance - look at the sea coming in and out, and slow your breath and your rhythms to match the pace of the waves.

Don’t feel obliged to refer to “sea swimming” or “wild swimming.” Yes, that seems to be the “in” phrase.

But I’m not a “sea swimmer”. I’m simply Lesley, who loves swimming and is lucky the beautiful and life-affirming sea is just down the hill from my home.