A bigger splash: Sea swimming at the West Pier

Sussex doctor Katie Fraser has won medals for sea swimming and will happily take the plunge all year round, even when temperatures drop below freezing. A self-confessed West Pier obsessive, she describes swimming by the pier as haunting, and yet hands down her favourite spot to swim. 

I find swimming is the only way to relax my mind. I take a breath with every 5 strokes which leaves me very calm. The freedom of swimming out to the horizon is indescribable. The tingle on the skin, the deep meditative breathing, the jaw freeze and tingly toes. The shivery changing on the beach, the layering of clothes, the chattery teeth chats with other podsters, it’s all fabulous. 

I had never lived by the sea so when we moved to Brighton two years ago I leapt in the first week of house hunting and never looked back. I started as a wetsuit swimmer but this year have managed to continue through the winter without a wetsuit. The euphoria of ‘skins’ swimming in sub 5° water is incredible. 

I have a little obsession with the west pier. My first swim to the pier was from the Lawns Cafe and we did a sunny swim from the cafe to the pier and back – I remember it because an old war plane flew over me – it was the day of the Shoreham Air Show crash. Being at the back of the pier is a bizarre, almost haunting experience.

Sea swimming has helped heal a severe back injury, and gives me much needed mental space from my busy job. I have always been a strong and keen swimmer and loved sea swimming but mostly in the summer or on holiday. 

I always keep a cozzie, hat and goggles in the boot of my car and will check the weather daily. I try to get in whenever I can and make sure I have a Dryrobe to hand to fend off the cold! 

We call
 our groups of sea swimmers ‘pods’. Organising swims through Facebook and Whatsapp makes swimming safer, sociable and just wonderful really. We have a real mix of backgrounds but one thing in common – our love for the water, and the way it makes us feel.

Last year I suffered a painful and frightening ‘dump’ by a 7ft wave. South westerly winds generally mean bad waves. My advice to new sea swimmers is to find a buddy, know the tide, and in the cold always be careful of how long you’re in the water. We use Magic Seaweed to plan our swims. 

Join our group on Facebook called Hove Sea Swimmers, the more the merrier! Some people just like to dip others like a proper swim. Otherwise Pool to Pier is a great way to be trained to learn the tides, waves, drag and to get you ready for the transition of entering the sea.

If you are tempted by sea swimming, first make sure it’s safe. It’s not for those with heart problems, and it’s recommended you consult a doctor beforehand. It’s important to swim regularly (2-3 times per week) and the ideal time to start is during the summer, when the water is warmest. 

Follow Katie’s hippy happy dipping on Instagram.

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