17 July 2020 - Taking a dip in the ocean is a popular activity in Ireland. Many are taking the plunge around our coast each day and believe swimming in the sea offers many health benefits. Sea water is known to have benefits for the skin and has been shown to have a positive effect on mental health.
This week the Marine Institute's Oceans of Learning series explores the link between the ocean and our health and wellbeing, including the benefits of sea swimming.
Niall Meehan, a designer and photographer based in Wicklow, is also an avid year-round sea swimmer. Niall shares why sea swimming is so important to him.
The Sea to Me by Niall Meehan
I sometimes wish I listened more. If I did I would have the perfect story to illustrate my relationship with the sea. A few years ago I was at an event where a very learned person was talking. It was evening time in the middle of June — therefore I would have been up since about 4:30am for the #swimrise. (Mitigating circumstances right there). Learned Person was describing a concept in 'didn't hear' philosophy where you don't name the bird. If you name the bird its song becomes that name and yields the opportunity for other expression. He may well have said something totally different, but that was what I heard. And it sounded precisely like the sea and me — not precise at all.
I don't ask or expect. I don't crave the glorious summer sunrises over glassy seas. I don't spurn the freezing February mornings with their numbing north-easterlies. I am happy to take what it gives. As our relationship has flourished I have come to the realisation that I don't need to put a label on this bird. I have realised the symbiotic relationship between fragile human and the might of the sea doesn't need to be any more complex than acceptance and giving. (By the way I bags #swimbiotic). I accept I am not a fish, a seal or even a humble barnacle — I am a visitor in this briny world and I play by the rules. Love and respect for the sea in equal measure.
I know there are some who describe their relationship with the sea in spiritual terms and I get that. However for me it evokes visceral feelings. It connects me to the natural world in a very immediate and instinctive way. It makes me feel alive. So while my swim buddy on any given day may be having a spiritual experience, I on the other hand will be wearing my here and now t-shirt. We are though, connected by our shared experience.
A fundamental aspect of my sea swimming experience is the connection that I have with the people I swim with. We are connected through friendship and the will to support and accept each other in a community. I have no doubt that our group — based in Greystones, Co. Wicklow — is no different to any of the many similar groups dotted around the country. In fact I know it, as I have met many of them. When I am floating about in my little patch of water I know they are doing the same in their water, and we are connected. Similarly the sea connects me — digitally — to swimmers beyond my horizon. Sometimes on a clear day as I leave my house to go swimming I can make out the Welsh mountains and feel connected to the swimmers in the lakes of Snowdonia. I feel connected to Cornwall; to Scilly; to Brighton, Walberswick, Cullercoats, Portobello, Oronsay and Tiree — just a small sampling from our next door neighbour.
My cleansing and fulfilling daily swim has now also become a new outlet for self-expression. Through my Sea Studio photographs I am striving to connect on an emotional and experiential level with the viewer. I want the viewer to experience the scene as if they were there — not looking at a sea scape, but being in a sea scape.
The sea to me is about connection: internally with myself; externally locally with my community and across the world through my citizenship of a borderless, pan-global nation of swim tribes. It has made my world bigger. Tap in, go for a swim, reconnect.
Follow Niall's swimming adventures and pictures on Instagram @niall_verso or @seastudio.ie and @humansofswimrise
For more information on the Marine Institute's Oceans of Learning series, view the resources available at Our Ocean: Our Health and Wellbeing Visit www.marine.ie and follow the Marine Institute on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.