The benefits of open water swimming are well documented. We spent the afternoon with wild swimmer Polly Ford and friends Kate & Ellie, discussing the draw of the water and testing our new swimwear.
Drawn To The Water
6 min read
Written by Polly Ford & Friends
Images by Abbi Hughes
Huge respect, Polly, for completing 100 days of ocean swims during winter. No mean feat. Tell us about the experience – your routine, the joys, the challenges, what it added to daily life?
Thank you! It was a great challenge. I tried to make my swim the first thing I did in the day. The sea tends to be a bit calmer, and it was more likely that I’d actually do it. By the end of the 100 days I’d fallen in love with Flushing Beach, near Falmouth, as it was always gentler and access much easier. Some of my swims during this challenge took me to the Outer Hebrides – there are some stunning beaches there!
I loved meeting other people on the beach. Mentioning I was doing the challenge often started interesting conversations about their swimming and how it helped them with their mental health. It also gave lots of lovely opportunities to meet up with friends for a swim, which also helped motivate me to get in.
It was hard getting into the routine in the first place. Though, once I’d started I realised it would set me up for the day; my mood felt calmer and happier when it was the first thing I did. Now I’m pretty much in the sea every day.
Any advice or insight for keen wild swimmers who are fearful of frigid winter seas?
Start off by going with friends or finding a group. You can encourage and look out for each other, which is especially important when the sea is so cold. And remember to breathe! I use gloves, boots and a thermal rash vest, especially in the colder months. And I always bring a hot drink in a thermos with me.
Also, know your limits! If you get to the sea and the swell looks too big or you just don’t feel comfortable getting in, then don’t! Sitting and watching the ocean is still a beautiful calming and a wonderful way to start the day.
Wild swimming demands the correct kit. In terms of size, support and performance potential, have you had any trouble over the years finding suitable swimwear?
Being 6ft tall, it’s harder to find swimwear that fits – especially wetsuits! I do think the knowledge of how swimming can improve your mental health has led to a wider variety of companies offering more inclusive sizing, but there’s definitely still a long way to go. I have wetsuit separates (vest, gloves, hat, boots) which makes the size companies produce the torso length less of an issue.
As well as a respected nature filmmaker and photographer, you’re also a Marine Mammal Medic. Talk us through a day in the life.
I’ve been a volunteer Marine Mammal Medic for British Divers Marine Life Rescue for 4 years now. When a call-out happens, all volunteers receive a text message with something like ‘Seal check needed at….’ and the coordinator number to call. So, I’ll quickly call the coordinator to let them know I can make it and get the exact details. Then I’ll head out to the location to meet the rest of the team, keeping in close contact with the coordinator. Call-outs can vary but the large majority are for seals – especially seal pups in pupping season – but I’ve also helped with dolphins too. The call-outs take me all over west Cornwall. No one call-out will be the same.
Being autistic, dyslexic and dyspraxic no doubt brings challenge. How does wild swimming help?
With my autism, the world can be quite overwhelming at times sensory wise. Getting in the water is very freeing; I don’t have to think about my balance due to my dyspraxia and coordination. And I usually like to go to quieter places for a swim. If I’m having a sensory overload, swimming helps to reground me, especially the quiet of going under water. Removing the need to use brain space to coordinate my movements and be aware of my feet means I have space to think more clearly; I find it very meditative too. Even if I’m not getting in the water, finding a quiet spot on the coast to listen to the waves can help too.
Where and how often do Kate, Ellie and yourself swim together?
We get in the water once a month after a coffee in Falmouth, which usually means the Greenbank Hotel – at high tide, with calm offshore winds, we’re there! And now it’s warming up, we might even make it once a week.
There’s a strong network of women wild swimmers in Cornwall. Beyond your swims together, do you swim with other groups – and if so, what do these community gatherings offer?
Polly: I’ve swam with the She Swims Falmouth group. They are so lovely and I found them to be very inclusive. I especially love their full moon swims. Watching the moon rise from the shore and sitting and chatting after is always great. The majority of the time I’m a solo swimmer though.
Ellie: When I first moved to Cornwall 3 years ago I swam with a few different groups – She Swims Falmouth, Bluetits, and the Cornish Dippers. As a newcomer to the area it was a fantastic way to meet other people who love the sea and get tips on the prettiest (and safest) places for a wild swim.
Kate: To be honest, I've not yet tapped into the power of the immense network that is women wild swimming in Cornwall. It can be a little intimidating having lots to choose from - I am aware of so many but due to my sporadic planning and longer hike/dip recce's I swim and dive alone most days. Saying that, I am never lonely. A fellow wild dipper is never far away and I've had countless chats with interesting strangers bobbing in the sea!
For others looking to get involved in wild swimming communities, in Cornwall and beyond, any good network resources you could recommend?
Polly: I found searching Facebook for groups was the best way to find swimmers local to you. I have also connected with a few individuals through the mental health swim groups on Instagram.
Ellie: I found Facebook was the best place to find swimming groups local to me. There were so many to choose from across Cornwall and all seem to meet at least once a week. I would also recommend MeetUp as a brilliant resource for finding people who have the same interests as you. I found a great sailing group just outside Falmouth, and there were lots of other watersports and walking groups too.
Kate: "Wild Swimming Cornwall" has a great 'Find your group' page which showcases a wide range of groups over Cornwall. For local communities, you can guarantee a cheeky Facebook search of local outdoors or wild swimmers in your area will draw up a result – particularly in Cornwall.