Rediscovering Community Through Sea Swimming

A daily dose of Vitamin Sea can cure what ails ya.

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Blame it on ‘busy’ culture, our fondness of flaking and general modern-day life, but many of us don’t see our friends nearly enough. In our hustle and bustle, we miss that sense of togetherness and community that many don’t have. When we do socialise, it’s usually in a pub or restaurant.

But still, lately many of us have learned to appreciate the outdoors and seek to find more ways to socialise in the open air. One of the ways people have been regaining community spirit in recent years in sea swimming groups. As residents of an island with an abundance of beaches and piers, many of us are closer to the water than we think. Now, people of all ages are making the most of this free and energising exercise as a way to invigorate themselves, take a break from the busy-ness and spend more time with like-minded humans.

Charlotte Black started her Swimrise Meetup in Portmarnock with her boyfriend Stephen, after being inspired by veggie chefs The Happy Pear and fitness coach Ornagh Morechalk’s sea swims. “Initially it was just the two of us, then family and friends and then we had others asking if they could join so we made our Instagram page @swimrise_meetup. Since then the group has continued to grow. This July we turned two. Now, people come together on Portmarnock beach every Sunday at sunrise for meditation, a dip in the sea and then we finish the morning with chats over tea and coffee.

“Having a dip in the Irish Sea when the sun is rising, you can’t be anywhere else in your mind but in the moment. It is a breathtaking experience. I also love the chats over tea after being in the cold sea and getting to know everyone. We have had people tell us how it has helped them with grief, stress, anxiety, pain management, and we are so humbled to be a part of the process. We never thought it would grow to where it is today.” 

Similarly, Vicki McGrath started her swimming club, Sunrise Society in March 2019 at Sandycove in Dublin. “Initially it was a small group of us, who were really struggling to find time during the week to see each other, so we decided to meet every Friday at sunrise for a swim and a chat. It soon became the highlight of our week, so we started to squeeze in extra swims during the week. In the beginning, it was just the five of us, but over the last 15 months, the group has expanded and merged with other regular swimmers that we have met down at the Forty Foot. There is such an incredible sea swimming community in Dublin and you very quickly get to know all of the regulars!

”I was diagnosed with breast cancer last October and the Sunrise Society and our weekly swim (when I was able), got me through the darkest days. You forget everything when you’re submerged in the icy water, all grievances and life stresses melt away for those brief minutes. For the morning of my last round of chemotherapy, I decided I wanted to celebrate the momentous day with a swim. So on the 28th February, we arrived down at the Forty Foot on a cold, dark and pretty miserable morning and the group surprised me with a ‘Final Chemo party’! It was brilliant, we laughed and cried and it was so special. It meant the absolute world to me.” 

Vicki also shared comments from other people in her group, which really just highlights how much community spirit goes with it. Another member said: “Last summer we were very lucky and witnessed the most incredible sunrise at Vico Baths, we were in the water when the sun started emerging like this giant orange disc on the horizon. There were seals and dolphins swimming around us and it just felt like pure magic. We were all very emotional.”

A third explained: “Last Friday morning, when the Forty Foot felt like a waterpark! We jumped into the wild waves like children and were pulled with the current towards Sandycove beach, it was so exhilarating being thrown around by the waves surrounded by so many friends. Most importantly though, the Sunrise Society means the world to me because it really made us all great friends and not in any forced way, our love of the sea and spending such quality time together bonded us. There have been some tough times for us, between cancer, breakups and loss but we were all there for each other every week ready for a post-swim therapy debrief over coffee at Perch.” 


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A post shared by June Curtin (@snamhaisasta)

It’s clear the sea swims are about fun and friendship for many people, but for many others, it’s a lifeline during the darkest times. For June Curtin, it was a literal sink or swim moment that made her fall in love with the sea. ”I lost my husband to suicide seven years ago, he was three months away from his 40th birthday. My children were just 5 and 9, and the years that followed were very difficult. I focused all my attention on my children, I was of the assumption that if my children were okay then I would be too. About a year ago, the stress was taking its toll on me, I was dealing with a very troubled teen who had never come to terms with the loss of his dad, I suffering very badly from stress and severe anxiety, focusing all of my attention on my two beautiful children, it must be the hardest thing as a mother to watch your children grieve.” 

June explains that she tried many things to help get through the turmoil. “Nothing seemed to work and the words of advice from my sister in law were ringing in my ear: “You can’t serve from an empty vessel”. I was raised on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean but from an early age my siblings and I worked in a family business so rarely got to the beach, I was sitting in my family’s hotel The Armada in Spanish Point one day having coffee, looking out at the same ocean I had been looking at my whole life and it was like a light bulb moment. I said to myself “tomorrow morning, you’ll go for a swim.”

“The fact that I couldn’t swim wasn’t going to put me off, I was so stressed at this stage, now was the time to either sink or swim literally and I had no intention of sinking. I got into that ocean and I felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders, I cannot describe the feeling of pure joy, I felt like I could take on anything. I decided there and then that I was going to do it every day. That night I put a post on Facebook saying I was swimming the next morning if anybody would like to join. On day two there were two of us and from there it grew, we now have hundreds of people join us. 

“We swim each morning at 9, and on a Sunday young and old alike travel to Spanish Point to join my happy tribe, we have a hooley, a country music disco and breakfast on the beach. I do tea coffee and sausages with floury rolls and we sing and dance. I set up an Instagram page @snamhaisasta promoting positive mental health and wellbeing, there isn’t a negative vibe in our tribe, I have come from a very dark place but with the help of my wonderful tribe of swimmers I am making my way through one foot in front of the other one day at a time.”

This article originally appeared in the August 2020 issue of STELLAR magazine