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  • Writer's pictureNiamh O'Reilly

Lockdown Sea Swimming...

Yes really. I’ve become one of those so called ‘Dry robe wankers…’ One of those people who now flings themselves into the icy winter water on an almost daily basis to go sea swimming in Ireland and posts about how amazing it makes them feel on Instagram.

I can feel your cynical eye rolling from here, but stay with me, because I’m telling you it’s the best thing I’ve done for my mental health in an age.

I’ve lived all my life by the sea. My late Nan was an avid sea swimmer braving the water in sandycove and Dalkey for most of her life, so I guess you could say it’s in the genes. But beyond the odd paddle in Brittas Bay during the summer when I was a child or a Christmas day jump into the 40 foot that was the extent of my sea swimming experience. And yet, I’ve always felt this pull towards it, but told myself it was stupid to go sea swimming in Ireland during the winter, ‘was I mad or what?‘

Over the years, when out walking by the sea, I’d see some of those brave, lonely souls boldly de-robing and striding happily into the icy waves and I’d think to myself ‘they must be bonkers.’

But little did I know, they were the sane ones. Back then, there was only a small handful of regulars, today if you go down to your local beach or coastline, you’re bound to see a hoard of hooded middle-aged men and women with red legs and huge smiles on their faces as they happily go in and out of the waves, floating on the biggest natural high they’ve ever found.

And I’m one of them... I sort of feel like I’m in a Dryrobes anonymous meeting standing up saying, ‘Yes I’m Niamh and I’m a sea swimmer!’

I started going in regularly last November (2019) and since then I hardly miss a day. It’s completely addictive and it is incredibly hard to put into words why I love it so much, but you know I’ll give it a go!

It’s that cold, sharp shock to my system that wakes me up. The icy tingle on my skin, that first submersion of my body into the freezing water. There’s nothing else to think about. Lockdown disappears, my children disappear, my worries, my anxieties, they all get frozen out of my thoughts and all I can think about is the cold water around me.

It’s that catching of my breath in my lungs as I set off on my swim. The strange warming my body feels as I begin to move my muscles though the strokes. The way the water gently carries my body on a calm day, as I float on my back and look up at the sky above me. The feeling of being a very small dot in a huge ocean of water, seeing nothing but the horizon. The salt and freshness of the water mingles in my nose and I could truly be anywhere, in any sea in the world.

Then there’s the days when the sea is dark and angry, and maybe I’m angry too. Angry at lockdown and everything it’s taken from my children. Angry at the world for closing in on us, angry at all the missed hugs, missed laughs, and any scrap of normal life we came to take for granted. On those days the big waves batter me as I desperately try and do my breaststroke up and down the white horses. I scowl as I swim and try not to be taken out by the power of the water, even though sometimes I wish it would.

And yet, I still come out with a smile. Every. Single. Time.

It’s the smattering of stones I stand on as I get out of the water, the cold air as it hits my skin, the red legs, the burn as I try to peel my wetsuit off and this immense sense of achievement I get as I look back at the freezing sea and think, I was just in there.

It’s the indescribable comradery I get from doing that weird knicker-putting-on shuffle alongside complete strangers who are doing the exact same ungraceful moves as me. We exchange smiles, comment on the water, the waves, the temperature and somehow become sisters and brothers in arms, the ones who braved the waves and the cold together.

Some are swimming for 40 years, others took their first dip today.

It doesn’t matter. The sea levels you all.

You smile together with your red legs and sandy skin, as if you’ve known each other all your lives.


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