The day the sea nicked my antlers…

Lou Walker joins the 'nutters you see on the news' for a Boxing Day sea swim. Dress code: bikinis and tinsel

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Well, we’ve all seen it on the Christmas or Boxing Day news in the past – nutters going for a swim in the sea while we’re opening another tin of Quality Street in front of the telly. And now I’m one of them. It was brilliant.

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My sea swimming group, the Seabrook Seals, their friends and visiting family members (including a 10-year-old young lady who wants to swim the Channel one day) met at a beach hut in Southbourne, Bournemouth, on Boxing Day. Dress code: bikinis and tinsel.

I topped off my ensemble with jingle bell reindeer antlers and fetching neoprene socks and gloves. There were also plenty of Santa hats, another set of antlers and a halo. I ended up losing the antlers when I ducked under a wave but I couldn’t have cared less.

The week before I had lost my goggles while being tumbled – twice – in huge surf and that whole episode had freaked me out a bit. I’d been watching the surf forecast for Boxing Day and had been worried the same thing was going to happen – I’d been genuinely scared and my confidence had been knocked.

This time I got a pre-swim masterclass from the boss, Dee Seabrook, in the tactics of getting beyond the surf to less violent water. It’s not really that hard. You have to try to wait for a temporary halt in the surf sets before going for it … or just commit. Once you’ve committed, you have to dive through and under the waves rather than hope to jump over the top, which doesn’t work and almost guarantees getting knocked down.

The new tactics worked a treat and in no time I was swimming and shrieking with everyone else. Swooping up and down on the huge unbroken waves was better than a roller coaster. Looking out to sea and seeing nothing but spume and foam was liberating. Being surrounded by laughing Seals was priceless. Such an energising antidote to the sleepy stodge of the day before.

It was definitely a lively swim with waves coming at us from all directions, but I felt confident and safe. At least half the Seals are sea lifeguards, which helps. We didn’t attempt to go anywhere; we just swam in front of the beach hut and stayed away from the groynes which have their own force field in heavy seas. 

Afterwards we had mulled wine and sausage rolls and cake. One of the best Boxing Days ever I think.

One marvellous side effect of worrying about the waves is that I didn’t notice the cold.  This could also be because I’ve acclimatised to cold water a bit – or more likely it’s because I’m, ahem, at my ‘winter weight’ (and have a bit more subcutaneous insulation than a couple of months ago).

The water is about seven or eight degrees so it potentially still has a way to drop in the next couple of months. Pity that I’ve got to start losing the lard now to help prepare for the Brighton Marathon but I hope that, by the time I’m nearly at marathon weight, the sea might be starting to warm up.

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Photo credit: Lucy Hawthorne, Greg Baynham