Featured,  View from the Water

What other people think about open water swimming

In last week’s blog post I mentioned I’d been in Brighton and did a little sea swimming. While I was there I carried out an experiment at the hotel where I was staying – it was one of the grand old ones overlooking the beach. I asked the concierge where was the best place on the beach to swim. The conversation continued something like this:
“Our swimming pool is the best place to swim sir.”
“Yes, but I want to swim in the sea, which is the safest spot?”
“It’s all dangerous sir. There are powerful undertows and currents, it’s deep, freezing cold and last year someone drowned, right in front of the hotel.”
“But what about when the tide is out, then you have a nice stretch of shallow beach don’t you?”
“I can’t recommend you swim in the sea, sir. Please use our swimming pool.”
I did look at the hotel pool. It was in the basement, small, crowded, smelly, over-heated, shallow and barely suited to any sort of swimming. At times I quite like swimming in pools but this one didn’t seem to have anything to recommend it. On the other hand I could have the entire beach front almost to myself.
While I was there I also popped into the beach office and asked their advice on swimming. They didn’t call me ‘sir’ but their advice was much more sensible. They knew the water temperature, the weather forecast and the tide times and advised me on the directions of the currents. They advised me to keep away from the West Pier as a lot of debris had come down in the storms but otherwise didn’t see any problem with swimming. They suggested I swim parallel to the coast against the current and warned me the beach was steep when the tide was in. In other words, they gave me all the information I needed to make my own decision about swimming without trying to scare me off with ill-informed scare stories.
Sadly, the latter are far more prevalent. To be fair, I didn’t expect the hotel concierge to give me good swimming advice but I was curious to see the certainty of his own conviction of the dangers of sea swimming.
It’s also true that people have drowned in Brighton so it wouldn’t be right to say it’s totally safe but it’s not as deadly as our friendly and well-intentioned concierge would have us believe.