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Photographer Jill Reidy always loved capturing the sea. Now it’s captured her. She writes about how running into the waves naked on a whim led her to become an unlikely dipper

My friends and family will tell you that the words, ‘Jill’ and ‘water’ are rarely to be heard in the same sentence.

Showers, of course, are fine, a necessary daily activity – but only with the water hot and pounding, and Badedas in the shower gel dispenser. Baths are OK so long as someone runs them and fills the room with candles and ideally a Cadbury’s Flake (it’s never going to happen). But please don’t ask me to go through the pain of pulling on damp clothes at swimming pools, or diving off piers into the sea.

Rewind to a few months ago, however, when, in a moment of madness, I volunteered to join a group of naked women, running into the sea for an experimental photoshoot. It was quite an eye-opener – and not for the reasons you are probably thinking. We were all shapes and sizes. Nobody really noticed each other’s bodies, certainly, nobody cared, and we had such a laugh – and it gave me a huge sense of freedom. At the end of the shoot, one of the women told me she belonged to a group of sea dippers. High on adrenaline, I expressed an interest. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Chrissy was the one who set up the group, Cleveleys Dippers, earlier this year, and by all accounts, it’s come on in leaps and bounds – or in dips and dives to use an appropriate analogy.

My first visit to the sea by Mary’s Shell was very tentative. Being the owner of only holiday bikinis (ie, to be viewed by strangers only), and no swimsuits, I’d already had to frantically order a one-piece costume, a pair of sand shoes, and a cover-up for before and after the dip. I was worried that everybody would wade in and set off swimming at a fast pace and I’d be left shivering by the shore, dipping a cautious toe into the foam. I was also concerned that I might suffer from a TGA episode (Transient Global Amnesia – or short-term confusion and memory loss) which can apparently be brought on by the shock of cold water. I’ve had a few and didn’t fancy being dragged out of the sea by a concerned dipper. I warned the few who were on the steps that the first day, but assured them that I would approach the waves very slowly and get out quickly if my body felt shocked by the cold. I think they were more relieved than I was when I emerged twenty minutes later, unscathed and, quite honestly, on a bit of a high.

What I loved about that first dip was a combination of the adrenaline rush as my shoulders disappeared beneath the surface and my breath caught in great gasps and the friendship and support of the other Dippers. I immediately knew I was hooked and I’d be back at the next opportunity. Which I was, three times the following week when the tide times were suitable. Since then I’ve fitted in as many visits as I can, depending on my schedule, tide times, and weather conditions. Each time I’ve come away feeling alive and exhilarated. It would probably be a step too far to describe myself as rejuvenated, but that’s certainly how I felt.

From a very shallow point of view (no pun intended), I do love a new hobby, not least because it opens up a whole new world of accessories. Before long, I had a wetsuit for winter dips, special gloves and socks, a fancy float, and a new, orange dry robe (not a branded DryRobe, although the price suggested otherwise), for which I excused the expense by lauding the fact that it was made from recycled materials. And a tree was planted for the purchase. I can’t prove that, of course, but I did get an email to that effect.

On a less frivolous note, I asked the group what they get out of dipping and was inundated with enthusiastic responses.

“The best part for me is getting in, that first plunge is an amazing feeling,” Annabelle told me. “From very cold right through the body followed by a tingly feeling,  then warming up as you get used to the water. It lifts your spirit no matter what.”

“My mental health has improved, and my general well-being is much better. I have more energy and I sleep better when I have been in the cold water,” the founder Chrissy said. “I’m generally more relaxed. I’m told my complexion is improved, and I’ve made new friends.”

Chrissy read and heard a lot about cold water therapy and prior to dipping (which is more about immersing yourself in the water than swimming), she started taking cold showers a few years ago and although she felt some benefit from it – mood-boosting, increased energy –she admits she didn’t exactly enjoy the experience.

“I tell all my friends and family about my newfound love of cold water. some of them say they’ve tried cold showers and that was enough! I would say the cold water dipping can’t be compared to a cold shower, as the dipping is a much more relaxing and enjoyable experience. I think the fact that you are out in nature is much gentler, and your body can gradually adjust to the water. Plus there’s the social aspect of it – most people don’t shower with several other people!”

Emma never thought she would enjoy it as much as she does.
“I think it’s kind of addictive, and I hear many others saying the same thing. I have made some lovely friends from the group, some like-minded souls, some people I have learned from, and some who have made me laugh my head off. The group has been so welcoming, and it’s lovely encouraging others to join when they walk past, see us in the water and ask questions.

“I just can’t recommend this experience enough for anyone thinking about it, or wanting to try something different that may help with their well-being. It’s also a great opportunity for anyone wanting to make new friends and push out of their comfort zone. There are people of all different ages, sizes, backgrounds, and abilities who come, it’s really inclusive, so if you have any insecurities, it’s all the more reason to come, this group will embrace and appreciate you for coming along and giving it a go.”

Hails echoed her fellow dippers saying she feels energised “especially if it’s a bit of a wild day, it gets the adrenaline going!”

Julie said her mood has improved and her anxiety lessoned. “I’m able to dump negative stuff in the sea. I feel more alive. The best part is meeting new people and the mindfulness of being in nature and the sea.”

Amy’s experience has been similar with “calmer moods, fewer aches and pains and weight loss” and Angie cited “better mental health, meeting new people, a feeling of exhilaration and lower blood pressure,” as some of the benefits she’s experienced. “The best part is the moment you submerge and your body works its magic to acclimatise.”

I’ve never taken much notice of age, having had friends, all my life, who might be twenty or thirty years older or younger than me. It’s not been a barrier to friendship and I can honestly say I don’t give it much thought. Us Dippers range from our twenties to our seventies – quite a span, and testament to the fact that age really has no relevance to dipping. We all go in at our own pace. Some tiptoe through the shallow waves before slowly submerging; some wade in with purpose, and tackle the icy water with bravado; others (actually, only me) fill the air with oohs and aahs and desperate yelps as the cold hits above the waist.

The feeling of friendship, solidarity, and community is always palpable but never more so than on one extremely wild and windy day, when I’d hovered by the shore before trying to brave the waves. Several others were already neck deep and attempting to swim, but each time I tried to move I got flattened by the next wave. One thing I’ve always hated, and have managed to avoid for the past sixty years, is having my head underwater. I hate the feeling of water gushing up my nose, and being out of control but on this particular day these wild waves were showing no mercy, and time after time I fell backward and desperately scrabbled about on the gritty sea bed, before emerging spluttering and spitting out seawater. I was at no risk of drowning, the worst that could happen would be a few bruises and a stomach full of seawater. However, a friend I’d just introduced to the group, and an experienced swimmer, noticed my distress and threw herself towards me. She grabbed hold of me and pulled me upright, grazing her thigh in the process (a fact she has not yet tired of reminding me). Anyway, I was grateful, and am now much warier of a rough sea.

Safety is, of course, a priority. Times are checked and the dips take place an hour before high tide, ensuring that the sea will generally pull us towards the shore rather than over to Ireland. Most people have floats fastened around their waists, and we’re all aware of the power of the sea and our own personal limitations. Although the group is called the Cleveleys Dippers, most of us combine dipping with swimming, although there’s no pressure to do either: if somebody wants to just stand at the edge and let the waves lap around their ankles that’s fine, no judgment.

I think it’s pretty obvious that my attitude toward water has changed quite dramatically over the last few months. As a photographer, I’ve always loved looking at it and capturing it. Ever-changing seascapes are some of my favourite images. Now, I have a different relationship with the sea. It’s not the enemy anymore, it’s a welcoming friend. We work together.

If anybody would like to ask any questions or join the group, please contact me by direct message on Facebook or by email; [email protected]

You won’t look back.

Images courtesy of Jill Reidy. Scroll to view

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