It’s Grand Once You Get In
By Claire Walsh
“My life is peppered with plenty of other ‘Are you mad?!’ activities; freediving being the most obvious. If you’ve tried it, if you’ve taken a deep breath, pulled out your snorkel to fold below the surface; you know. You know I’m not mad, you know I’m smitten…and you probably are too. “
Towel rolled up under my arm and togs (or swim suit) dangling out of my coat pocket, I shuffle down to the sea front, crunching over sand that’s frosted overnight.
This is bonkers, I think. Bonkers, but brilliant.
How is it? I ask the person walking in the opposite direction, eyeing the bluish-red skin and goosebumps.
Ah not bad. It’s grand once you get in.
Freezing my bum off in the Irish sea has something I’ve always just done, it wasn’t a ‘thing’. I was usually in the company of men and women in their 70s who pottered down in their dressing gowns to dip like they had done everyday for years. No phones, no photos, no hashtags, just their morning routine, like their cup of tea or brushing their teeth.
The idea of wading into the mid-winter waters is always greeted by the uninitiated with an exclamatory ‘Are you mad?!’
Maybe I am OR maybe this is the very thing that keeps the madness at bay.
My life is peppered with plenty of other ‘Are you mad?!’ activities; freediving being the most obvious. If you’ve tried it, if you’ve taken a deep breath, pulled out your snorkel to fold below the surface; you know. You know I’m not mad, you know I’m smitten…and you probably are too.
But foreign countries and freediving trips feel pretty far away as I hobble over freezing stones into the 6 degree water on my doorstep.
As plane tickets to warm waters get refunded and held as vouchers, my morning swims have taken on a new meaning, a new importance. Instead of just being part of my routine, something I do in Ireland when I’m not off having adventures, I’ve had to shift my perspective a bit – how else would you get out of bed at 5:30am? They’re now my daily adventure, my dangling carrot and often, my favourite part of the day.
The pre dawn skies, the craning your neck to hunt for gaps in the cloud; Will we get a light show this morning? The bite of the water, the gasp as a rogue wave hits your shoulders before you’re ready. The string of curses that explode out of your mouth. It’s part of my routine; creative expletives, a wrinkled nose and face pulled into a grimace… and then I breathe. Closing my eyes, focusing on slowing my breath, calming down my mind and releasing my muscles that have tensed against the cold. These breaths are my daily nod to freedive training. It’s a little reminder of all the time spent focusing on my breathing to prepare to hold it. Integrating it into the swims is a comfort, a reminder and a little whisper of I haven’t forgotten you.
When I reopen my eyes, for the first time that morning I feel awake. Feet floating up in front of me, I look for the sun on the horizon. ‘Okay girls, lift that sun with your toes’ my friend calls. We line up, feet facing the sun and watch it rise into the sky. The view in front of us would rival any exotic destination.
Floating in the water at sunrise, feet and hands numb, having salty chats with fellow raw-skinned swimmers and squealing as a piece of seaweed brushes against our legs (at least we hope it’s seaweed) Perfect.
I’ve overlooked and taken for granted this simple activity FOR YEARS. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to be somewhere where ‘cold’ is in the mid twenties rather than pushing 30. But I’ve a new appreciation, a deeper love or grá for my local sea. It’s provided so much over the past 14 months. It’s calmed and soothed, re-energised and connected and hosted a whole other community of water lovers.
During a period of time where plans went out the window, work was turned on its head and our worlds were reduced to a 5km radius, swimming at sunrise helped create a sense of space and room to breathe. It provided a daily adventure that dips into discomfort, rejuvenates resilience and like a switch, flicks operation mode to ON; Alive
…and all before 8am.
fourth element ambassador
Having started as something ventured into for the craic, new fourth element ambassador Claire Walsh discovered a passion for competitive freediving and has gone on to be the 8 times National Record Holder for Ireland. She has also been a daily sea swimmer befor many years, but through lockdown has enjoyed the growing community of water lovers and has embraced a deeper love for the ocean on her doorstep, no matter how cold it gets.