Sea swimming, canoeing and paddle boarding on a Bank Holiday Weekend
Most people might think moving to the coast when you’re scared of open water would be a daft thing to do.
I mean, who would want to live right next to the vast expanse of water that makes you so uneasy???
Hello! I’m Phil. And I’m daft.
It’s not a crippling fear or anything, but there’s something about the overwhelming size and latent malice of the sea, relative to the small bag of meat that comprises me, that when I dwell on it, is just ridiculous.
Yet, one of my favorite films is Jaws – not simply for the stunning special effects that haven’t aged at all *cough* – and, like a moth to a flame, I constantly feel an attraction to the water
We got hit by the floods in 2013, but thankfully not as bad as some. After the worst night of thigh deep water rising to within an inch of getting in the house, I had a wander round the neighbourhood to see how others were faring. Most were fine, but the flood meadows next to the Thames were an unrecognisable, vast lake.
From a safe distance, it was beautiful, but chilling, seeing what water could do. But there was still that irrational voice in the back of my mind wondering what it would be like trying to cross it, which I obviously ignored because I’m not that level of idiot.
Finding the time to get wet
Since moving down here we spend a fair bit of time at the beach. As a large part of the view is wet, and kids are kids, inevitably there’s a demand to take advantage of it.
I don’t want the kids to be scared of the sea, and I want them to respect it, so I’ve been working on overcoming my completely rational fear of being swept out to sea and eaten by giant squid by getting out there more myself.
It’s not easy finding time. You can’t just go down with the kids and jump in the open water, as it’s not a simple job keeping an eye on them at the beach. Even with another grown up (I’m being generous putting myself in that category) it’s not really fair for me to disappear into the water with them running in opposite directions and accidentally launching stones at tourists because they can’t hit something that takes up 71 per cent of the Earth’s surface.
I’ve sporadically managed to get out in the past, but this year with a bit more planning and opportunity seizing (towel in car, swim shorts underneath whatever I’m wearing!), I’ve been a lot more successful.
My confidence in the water has definitely increased. It still scares me, but in the last few weeks in particular I’ve had a good few dips and felt better going further out than I’d have fancied last year.
Bank holiday weekend wetness
As some sort of dripping crescendo to this watery nonsense, this last week has been quite a wet one!
I dug out my cheap fins and mask for a bit of snorkeling on Deal beach – it was clearer further out, but the timing of the tide meant visibility wasn’t great.
Not that it’s meant to be that good round here anyway, but it was fun to have the flippers on to really motor along, and they give me a confidence boost that I can more easily get out of any tricky situations with them on!
A couple of days later we met up with some friends and family at Dover beach (sounds weird, but it’s actually lovely!) and I had a grand swim out in water that stays pretty calm thanks to the breakwater.
Probably because of the calmness, I felt more comfortable going literally out of my depth, and put the niggling feeling that I’d be swept away by a rip current (I’m paranoid, so had already checked for the signs, knew the tide was favourable, and was in a relatively safe location) to the back of my mind, and just enjoyed being in the water.
Even a couple of dozen yards out, the world seems to change.
You’re in water, so everything is less solid. You’re entirely reliant on yourself to stay alive, so I feel conscious of my every action now gravity and terra firma aren’t doing the work.
I’m more aware of my limits, but also my abilities. Self awareness which you don’t get to experience when you’re sat at a desk, or juggling the needs and wants of every day life.
It might have only been for a 20 minutes, but it felt more invigorating than any pool session I’ve ever had, and I was – and am – determined to repeat it as much as I can.
Getting on the water
The next day, we went a bit less salty and took the kids out in a canoe along the River Stour from Grove Ferry. I booked online (Canoe Wild if anyone’s interested, no affiliation, just for info) but don’t think that’s always necessary, especially out of peak school holiday times.
We opted for just an hour, but that was long enough to get to a lovely peaceful stretch of the river, try to find kingfisher (fail), and stop the kids getting antsy.
Not long after leaving the moorings, there’s not a person to be seen. Just you, the river and the scenery flowing along.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’d probably have got more out of it if the kids weren’t there – trying to get them to paddle so I could chill was not easy, they’d be rubbish galley slaves – but it wasn’t hard to enjoy the experience and the surroundings.
We all scoffed a picnic afterwards and they had a good run around in the park, and a hunt for suitable trees to climb, so not a bad way to keep them occupied for a few hours.
They went for a sleepover at their grandparents that night, so we decided to take advantage and went back to Dover in the morning for some stand up paddle boarding at the Dover Sea Sports Centre. As it was relatively early on a bank holiday Monday, the centre, and beach, were quiet. It was amazing to be out on the still water, with the sun glistening through the morning haze.
We’d never done it before, but we got the basic hang of it pretty quickly. I only took one dip when I was a bit ambitious about how sharp a u-turn I could make (not as sharp as I thought was the somewhat predictable answer).
As the briefing was a bit vague, I wasn’t sure how far out I could go, so I just went out as far as I felt comfortable. This turned out to be a lot further than I expected when I turned round and could barely make out people back on the beach!
I didn’t die though, so that’s a win for me, and the feeling of calm and isolation when I was out there, coupled with the mild fear of never getting back to shore, was amazing.
Unfortunately, I now want a paddleboard. And a kayak. And a wetsuit. And a winning lottery ticket to pay for it all.
ignoring the fear
These little trips have shown me that despite my fear, I really want to get out on/in the water more.
I’m not saying it’s going to overtake my love for mountains (not so many of them in Kent) or forests. But the sea is on my doorstep – thankfully not over it – so if I need to recharge with some wild and peaceful fun, I need to make more of it.
Though, thinking about it, the idea of swimming in a secluded mountain lake has entered my head…
I’ll try to keep a handle on my fear, without ignoring it’s usefulness in stopping the whole dying thing. And I’ll try to get out while I can, be it on a board, in a canoe/kayak, or just in my swim shorts.
What is it you’re scared of?