Siobhan Cronin is The Southern Star's editor. She's also an avid sea swimmer and in her regular blog 'From A to Sea' she documents her sea swimming journey. So get the wetsuit on, dive in and join her on her aquatic adventures
THE Christmas break for our TDs finished this week but for the rest of us the holidays were well and truly over a few weeks ago!
I have to admit that finding time to get a few dips in has been difficult after the weeks of stormy weather, just after the Christmas.
This year I swapped my usual Christmas Day swim in Schull for Tragumna. I’m not sure why. I love Schull because there is a very short run from the ‘beach’ at the pier into the water, and the tight space on the shore usually ensures there is plenty of body heat to piggyback on, to keep you cosy before you have to get in!
But this year, just as I was heading out the door, the lure of some splashy waves and a sandy run got the better of me and so I turned the trusty chariot left instead of right, and headed for Skibbereen.
Even though I was there a good half hour early, the little beach with the picturesque island offshore was totally packed. I got one of the last parking spaces within a short walking distance, and undressed, bringing just my trusty fleece robe and flipflops with me while listening to the safety briefing.
It is the only day in the winter that I can bring myself to swim in just my togs but it’s never as cold as my wimpy brain tells me it will be in advance.
This year there was a definite swell in the water, and some decent sized waves which drench you while you are deciding whether or not to actually get down.
I think the rougher the sea, the warmer it is – probably something to do with physics and energy etc etc. But whatever the reason, it wasn’t as chilly as I was expecting, thankfully.
The huge crowd ensured plenty of smiles and whoops and hollers in the water, and it was, as always, a brilliant way to start the big day.
Loads of selfies and group photos being taken and it’s a really great family morning out. It doesn’t spoil the day cos it’s all over within the hour, and most of these swims are for a good cause too, so bring a few quid for the charity buckets.
Anyhow, I splashed about like a clumsy seal, did about ten strokes, and then it was time to run back to the shore, grab the robe and get dressed asap. I had brought my microwaveable hotpack with me so the towel was toasty warm, and the flask of tea made it all worthwhile.
It’s a really wonderful Irish tradition and one that has gathered pace in recent years. Even for those who don’t tend to swim all winter, it’s a lovely social way of meeting the neighbours, having some healthy fun and giving you a huge energy boost to face the ups and down of Christmas Day.
Even just running or walking to the shore in your swimsuit, and dipping your toes in, gives you such a great sense of joy. You will never hear anyone regretting the Christmas Day swim. It’s a yearly tradition I hope to continue for as long as I can.
After that, the weather was unpredictable and it was also difficult to pin down the usual swimming troupe for a dip, what with people travelling all over the country checking in with the relations.
One or two of us did make it to the island in Lough Hyne and back on a few Saturday or Sunday afternoons, but you’d definitely need the hot tea and warm towel afterwards.
The full-on gear is in use now. The heatseeker vest under the winter wetsuit, the two hats, (one being the cosy bonnet), the gloves (sometimes two pairs, although they make swimming a bit difficult!), the super thick booties and the big goggles.
Really, the only part of you that should be exposed is the face, or part of it, and if you splash it a few times before you start stroking off, then it’s not such a big shock to the system to submerge your face fully.
Doing 1km a few times a week is plenty this time of year, and that is what I have been aiming for, but I have fallen by the wayside a few times.
In a bid to give me a bit of a push, I have signed up for a trilogy of swims, organised by Irish adventure sports specialists Gaelforce.
I have done their Killary Great Fjord Swim twice already, but this year they have added another two venues – the Great River Swim on the Shannon in Lanesborough in May, followed by the Great Lake Swim in Mountshannon (Lough Derg) in July, and then my favourite swim – Killary, in September.
Each swim has three length options, so I have optimistically gone for the 3.1km for the first one, on the Shannon. I am hoping that it will give me the push I need to ensure I start adding more length to my weekly swims from February on.
On days when I cannot get in for a dip, I tend to watch some YouTube videos for tips, in a bid to convince myself that while I’m not actually swimming, I am still learning.
My favourite online coach is Australian Brenton Ford. A former national swimmer, the award-winning coach has tonnes of videos on YouTube and his Effortless Swimming website on technique and general advice for both pool and open water swimmers.
So, if you can’t get out and get down, treat yourself to one of his short but very accessible videos on how to improve your stroke and reduce the effort.
This is one of his most popular videos, including five tips to help you swim better:
See you next month!
Read Siobhan's previous From A to Sea post here.
You can contact Siobhan at [email protected].