Swimming: Adriatic and Irish Seas

09:03 Thu 12 Aug 2010

I’m not that fond of the water. I can swim, just about, but I don’t generally like to. Before doing boogie boarding for a couple of years, I hadn’t been in the water in a long time. I haven’t even done that since 2006, and as I did boogie boarding while wearing a wetsuit, it’s been a long time indeed since I did much more than just touch the water.

I wanted to change this, and I had an excellent easy way to do that when I was in Francavilla recently. The weather was good, and the water there was fairly warm. I wasn’t in the water for long at all, unfortunately, but I enjoyed it quite a lot, and would have been happy to have spent a lot more time in it.

I can’t say the same about my time in the Irish Sea this week. I went to Hawk Cliff with friends, and got into the water despite my body’s insistence that I was doing something really stupid. Hawk Cliff isn’t a beach, but a swimming spot with steps going down into the water, and as I went down the steps I intended to simply immerse myself without hesitation—as I’d done in the Adriatic—but with the water up to my knees I began to slow down, and when it reached my waist I just stopped. I stayed there for a few moments, as alleged free will fought with the instinctual desire to avoid things that don’t seem warm or safe.

Then I went back up the stairs and jumped up and down for a while in an attempt to warm up. This worked, and I again hesitated on the steps but managed to get fully into the water. I’d been advised to get in briefly and then get out twice before getting in for a longer period, so that’s what I did. I didn’t notice much difference between the three times. Each of them felt extraordinarily cold. I more or less immediately felt like I had trouble breathing, which was both familiar and disturbing—familiar because I often feel that way during CrossFit workouts, disturbing because I hadn’t exerted myself at all.

I swam around a little, and probably stayed in for about five minutes. I never really felt better, and the experience was dominated by cold and fear: the awareness of those things took up about sixty percent of my consciousness, even while I talked to the others, had photos taken, and told myself that things were fine. It was only after I got out of the water that I was able to convince myself that in truth I was pretty safe: poor swimmer or not, absent bad conditions I can probably stay afloat for significant periods of time, and at the least should be able to backstroke with some effectiveness. While I was in the water, though, none of that seemed plausible, and I was very focused on the combination of being in the water and not breathing as easily as I would have liked.

My companions all seemed much more invigorated by the experience than I was. I found it refreshing, but not as much as they did. I found it very physiologically and psychologically interesting, but “pleasant” doesn’t really come into it.

Despite all that, though, I want to do it again. I’m drawn to the moment on the steps, when I had every intention of continuing into the water, and really thought I was going to, but couldn’t. I want to be in the water, feeling that cold, but be able to swim around without being paralyzed by the conviction that drowning is imminent. I want to overcome the aversion to the cold, and to act despite the fear.

Unfortunately, the Pacific around San Francisco is likely to be my next opportunity to swim, and I’m informed that it’s even colder.

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One Response to “Swimming: Adriatic and Irish Seas”

  1. garret Says:

    You were great!

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