It’s been a pandemic trend to compete over banana bread and regular people — but a long winter wiped out sea swimming for many.
As temperatures rise and evenings lengthen, we can expect large numbers to return to the water this summer.
But lifeguard and swimming coach Henry O’Donnell, who recently became the first man to swim fins in Ireland, has warned people to respect the sea and not underestimate its power.
“Before you go out, you need to know your own abilities, do a self-assessment, know your physical and mental condition. Are you tired? Is your energy level okay? are you injury free Are you hydrated?” he explained.
These factors are often the reason people find themselves in a dangerous situation at sea, he said.
According to Mr. O’Donnell, learning to swim properly can reduce your risk of drowning by 80 percent.
However, whether you’re an experienced or new sea swimmer, he recommends never swimming alone, familiarize yourself with the currents in your area, and tell someone on shore you’re swimming in case you get in trouble.
“The sea gives life, but it can also take life,” he warned.
With 11 drownings in Ireland every month, Water Safety Ireland’s Roger Sweeney explained how often the cause of drowning is people overestimating their abilities and underestimating the risks.
A big factor to consider before deciding to swim in the ocean is the weather and tides on the day as these will determine if the water is safe for swimming.
Mr Sweeney said: “Always check the wind and weather forecast before you swim and then check the nature of the tides.
“Spring tides are more dangerous as they cause stronger currents on beaches and increase the risk of stranding.
“Use local knowledge to identify the location of currents at your beach or bathing area.
“It’s much safer to swim when the tide is rising than when the tide is falling.”
The water is always safest at low tide as the water moves very little. This usually happens in the hour before or after high or low tide.
When it comes to recommendations for the best places to swim in the sea, Mr O’Donnell advised traveling to the North West this summer to swim at Boat Strand in Carrickfinn.
Meanwhile, Mr Sweeney recommended visiting the hidden gem of Duach Beach on Inishbofin Island, which is around 30 minutes by ferry from Cleggan Pier in Co Galway.
Across Ireland, many people have found a love for sea swimming during lockdown, including chef Karen Coakley.
Growing up, Ms Coakley always had a bad relationship with water, having lost her first cousin to drowning when she was a teenager.
However, on November 29, 2020, she overcame her fear when she and a friend decided to take up open water swimming as a hobby.
The mother of four fell in love with swimming and hasn’t looked back since. Now she is benefiting from her newfound passion.
“It has been very good for me. There were six of us in the house during lockdown so the water was my salvation,” she said. “It was my 15-minute routine of something solid I had every day.
“It resets the button, if you’re having a stressful day or a bad day or you’re sad, you get in the water and come out and everything has changed.”
The Cork woman’s favorite place to swim is Zetland Pier in Glengarriff, Co Cork.
Swim Ireland’s Neil Kennedy has been competing in open water swimming for several years and his golden tip for hitting the water this summer is to swim in a group.
Not only is it safer to swim with others, but it creates a sense of community around the activity that will encourage people to become regular sea swimmers, he said.
“Swimming in groups is a great way to enjoy outdoor swimming.
“There are so many groups and events across the country that love to welcome new swimmers.
“The events we host with Swim Ireland are a great way to get in the water with like-minded people.”
Mr Kennedy shared his favorite spot for swimming in Ireland, choosing an inland area, Lough Lene in Collinstown, Co Westmeath, for its crystal clear waters.
Former lifeguard Dearbhla O’Moore has been swimming in the sea off Donegal since she was a child and worked as a lifeguard on Rossnowlagh beach for four years.
She recommends people who are new or inexperienced to sea swimming contact a lifeguard and ask if there is anything they should consider before getting in the water.
“Always respect the lifeguards and what they say, they know best, it’s their beach and they’re there all day, every day.”
She also advises against using air mattresses on beaches, as they can make it easy to be lugged out to sea on even the calmest of days.
“If you want to bring something to swim with, a bodyboard or surfboard would work, but a Lilo can be pulled out to sea pretty quickly without anyone noticing,” she explained.
Áine McAuley and Eimear Tangney not only found their love for sea swimming during the pandemic, but have turned what was once just a hobby into a business, Salty Sea Sisters.
“The most common mistake I see when people start swimming in the ocean is to throw themselves in the water,” Ms Cauley said.
“It’s so easy to lose your breath and panic, especially in deep water.”
When people dive into the water before their bodies have acclimated, they can often experience cold water shock.
During a cold water shock it can become difficult to breathe, often resulting in failure to swim and a state of panic as a result.
“One of my top tips is to take a hot water bottle with you when you swim and wrap your clothes around it.
“Even in summer the water can be so cold.”
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/if-youre-having-a-bad-day-you-come-out-of-the-water-and-everything-has-changed-41664567.html “When you’re having a bad day, you come out of the water and everything’s changed”