This piece was originally published in the Love Porthleven Guide. I took on my alter ego of the Porthleven Mermaid to offer tips to sea swimmers in Porthleven.
Sea swimming tips from the Porthleven Mermaid
Wild swimming. Sea swimming. Open water swimming. Whatever you want to call it, a dip in the big blue has become a very popular activity.
It’s no wonder when health benefits reportedly include better sleep, better circulation and metabolism, increased happiness and a boosted immune system.
We caught up with Porthleven’s very own mermaid, and her alter ego Suzie Inman, for some top tips for beginners who fancy braving the waves.
There are two rules of open water swim club. Never swim alone and know your limits. It’s crucial to be safe and not to push yourself. Some swimmers I know will stay in less than ten minutes to get their cold water hit and some seem to have no thermostat and will stay submerged for hours. We’re all different and that’s fine but over-exposure can be harmful, especially in winter.
Porthleven is a great place to dip in calm weather. If you like to feel the sand between your toes, wade in off the beach (the area below the big stone steps is best for avoiding rocks). Just be wary of going too far out as there can be rips. If you prefer a sand-free experience then try a ‘Ship dip’ in the shadow of The Ship Inn (also handy for a warming tot of rum afterwards!)
There are some amazing tidal pools, beaches and harbours to be found around Cornwall’s coastline. Check before you go in for any safety signs and warnings, and if you don’t know an area it’s worth doing some research and seeking local advice before taking the plunge. Porthleven beach is good, for example, but not much further up the coast towards Loe Bar is notorious for rip currents and should be avoided. Check out the Porthleven Salty Sisters group on Facebook and Instagram for local advice.
In a storm, Porthleven is one of a few places you can usually still swim, because the inner harbour is protected from the swell. Locals call it the ‘lido’ and it’s good about two hours either side of high tide and great for beginners.
Choose your spot and get in slowly. I find a smooth action without stopping helps. Even after two years I still get the fear of the freeze if I stand too long at calf height. I’m a launcher at that point.
You’ll get the initial hit of cold, even in summer. Breathe through it. Then you’ll start to acclimatise and within five minutes you should be feeling great. Repeat and see how long before you get the swim bug!
You don’t need fancy kit to swim – a swimsuit, a towel and warm clothes for afterwards are your essentials. But there are a few things I have found help:
- Tide table/ app – useful for checking for optimum dip times, especially if your chosen swim spot is tide-sensitive.
- Goggles – if you want to see some amazing kelp and underwater creatures.
- Plastic bag – something to put your wet kit in.
- Bigger plastic bag – something to store everything in on shore that will keep it dry if it rains.
- Change towel – I have a big towel robe which makes getting changed in the open air much easier. Some swimmers prefer a standard towel and a Dry Robe for warmth.
- Something to stand in/ on – I have a drawstring bag that doubles as a wet kit bag, but a bathmat or even a piece of carpet will do the trick!
If you’re just taking up open water swimming it makes sense to do it between May and October when the water is a lot warmer. If you want to keep going through winter there are a few extra things to bear in mind. My first year I swam in a wetsuit from December to April but this year I’ve been in a swimsuit with swim boots, gloves and a hat. I find the accessories make all the difference. I also have a 1mm neoprene jacket which I sometimes wear on top. Again, everyone is different.
Don’t stay in too long in winter and when you get out get your wet kit off and get dry and warm as soon as you can. A hot drink is a good idea as well as warm socks, gloves and a hat. The key is to warm up slowly and not hop straight into a hot shower.
Why do I do it? I have less aches and pains, it helps my anxiety and there’s a zing you get afterwards that’s tricky to get any other way. I never regret a swim.
See you in the water!