2 weeks ago

In The Swim

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It’s great to be able to swim again, but let’s not spoil it …

Matt Damon said it best. Where else can you be within a few kilometres of trees, woods and the ocean? He’s not the only one who’s been slipping down to White Rock for a swim with his SuperValu bag of towels. Other wet-suited diehards have been slipping off the rocks in Blackrock and making for the buoys. And it was like the storming of the barricades at Seapoint this week: on Monday morning, the start of Phase One, a few regulars lost their patience and elbowed their way past the wire fences cordoning off the swimming area and took to the water, before the fences came down officially the next morning.

As the Irish Times reported, there’s been bedlam at the Forty Foot and elsewhere along the coast this week. It’s no wonder that, penned in for months, and with little else on the horizon, whether post-exam celebrations, holidays or even after-work drinks, people are flocking to the coast (often in big groups on bikes, and often from way further way than 5k). It’s lovely to see children whopping with joy as they jump the waves, when they’ve been stuck indoors for so long, as well as teens regaining something of their deleted summer. But many are eyeing the crowds anxiously, conscious that this freedom – never more appreciated – could easily be wrested away again.

The relief among regulars is palpable, and joyous. People were literally beaming as they headed back down to the sea. “I knew I loved it, but oh, it’s so wonderful to be back in!” beams a lady early this morning as we breaststroke past each other. A clan of stalwart ladies, decked out in swim hats and booties, makes a stately (distanced) procession down the steps and deflates into the chill water. A smart older gentleman, towel under his arm, stiffly heads down to the swim area in a suit and polished shoes. It seems that Dry Robes – the pricey long waterproof zip-ups that are essentially walking duvets – have become practically a uniform in some parts. Forget the ropey floral towelling ponchos we used to change awkwardly under in the 1970s; I spotted one coiffed couple marching to the sea in matching camouflaged robes, like some weird miniature army.

The thing is, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of sinking into the water – it’s entirely liberating, and you never feel as refreshed as you do after a sea swim. It reduces everything from stress levels and sadness to raging hot flushes – whatever it is that weighs on you. As well as boosting your immune system, and doing wonders for your head, the sea is a great leveller, and once you’re in, whatever size, shape or fitness level you’re at is entirely invisible. While posers and selfie-takers will still try to show off their unfeasibly small bikinis and equally unfeasible number of hours they’ve spent in the gym, the sea renders all kit, tan and abs irrelevant – just dive straight in, ruin your hair, feel free. Most impressive are the older ladies in bikinis, defiant in the waves – all power to them and their refusal to be anonymous in a black one-piece. These are the hardy types who swim all year round, trudging down in November with flasks and steering clear on jammed summer afternoons, leaving them for the shrieking fair-weather dippers.

So enjoy the sea, but don’t hang around or come in big groups, or bring picnics, and determinedly observe social distancing. Try to seek out quieter times on bigger beaches (the swim spot at Killiney is gorgeous but a bit of a bottleneck) – low tide for example (there are several good Tide Times apps to consult). This way, everyone can continue to enjoy this universal pleasure that’s so wonderfully accessible to us here in Ireland, even in a city. Let’s not rock this boat.

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