I have a love-hate relationship with the sea. I find it unpleasant to get myself all salty and sandy just for the sake of a dip. And in hot countries, being of the fair and freckled variety, I have endless problems with sunscreen (put it on before: it will wash off into the water eventually, put it on after: you’ll be battling with wet, salty sandy skin which really doesn’t want any cream on it). Besides, how much swimming do you really get done? The beautiful beach in the photo above possessed clean white sands, blood-warm water and breathtaking views, but I mostly just jumped between waves because swimming wasn’t really an option.
But. It’s the sea! There’s something amazing about submerging yourself in something so big and powerful and looking out knowing that the next piece of land is another continent (or Canvey Island, depends where you’re swimming). And the elation felt afterwards is unbeatable (best ever: Staithes beach on a very windy March day). Susie Parr’s Story of Swimming comments that very few people seem to swim in the sea these days and I would concur. I’ve been the only person in the water, not just in cold water in the UK and Northern France, but in Southern Spain in June and September in temperatures of 30 plus. My own feeling, purely anecdotal, is that the recent resurgence in outdoor swimming is predominantly competitive and it takes an exceptionally hardy swimmer to take on competitive distances in the sea. If, you follow Leanne Shapton’s classification, in her book Swimming Studies, of being a bather rather than a swimmer, the sea will suit you. Otherwise you’re better off in a lake. Or Tooting Lido.