Seals brave cold at sea swims


They do it for all sorts of reasons.

Some of them don’t like being restricted by a tight wetsuit. Others just enjoy the pure, uncomplicated simplicity of it all and a few just like the natural sensation of seawater against their skin.

But whatever their reasons, the swimmers who went through the Port Nelson Sea Swim series wearing nothing but togs certainly gained the admiration of their wetsuited counterparts. The 18-race series started on November 6 when the water was a chilly 13 or 14 degrees Celcius ended last Thursday.

“It was pretty cold at the start for them,” series organiser Dick Bennison says. “You can’t just jump in and swim in the cold like that – you have to acclimatise and that’s what a lot of them do.

“I think quite a few, like Geoff Lart,  swim right through winter without a wetsuit. But most of them are Poms and I reckon if you learned to swim in the Irish Sea anything else will seem warm.”

But Peter Thomas, who swam without a wetsuit for the first time this season, says the worst part is actually standing around waiting to get in the water.

“The first few swims were cold but the hardest part was standing around waiting for the swim. Once you get in the water and get going it’s actually not too bad.”

Peter says he decided to join the non-wetsuit swimmers this season “for a challenge”. Apart from the cold, he says it also took some time to feel comfortable swimming without the potentially life-saving buoyancy of a wetsuit.

“It took a while to get used to it but now I’m really enjoying it,” he says.

Veteran non-wetsuit swimmers, Chris Baird and Digby Kynaston, concede that they also felt the cold early in the season but Chris says that just “makes you feel very fresh and alive”. Digby says he couldn’t imagine swimming in the sea without “feel of the water on your body”.

But the early season chill and lack of buoyancy aren’t the only challenges of swimming without a wetsuit.

“You lose some speed because wetsuits give swimmers extra streamlining,” Peter says. “I’ve noticed this year I’m about a minute and half slower over a kilometre without my wetsuit.”

Dick also jokes that non-wetsuit swimmers need to be in good shape because they don’t enjoy the flattering coverage provided of a wetsuit.

“The likes of Chris and Geoff are all well-toned which helps when you don’t wear a wetsuit. I couldn’t swim in togs – a muffin top and Speedo isn’t a good look.”

For the record, Geoff Lart won the non-wetsuit men’s long course series ahead of Peter and Chris with Cheryl le Lange, Kay McPherson and Monique Day on the podium for the women.

The 2015-2015 series proved to be the most popular yet with an average of 168 swimmers competing each Thursday, 10 more than last season. A record 194 swimmers entered on February 12 surpassing the previous mark of 184 set at the same time last season.