Diving in to wild swimming

Wild swimming is becoming increasingly popular as an accessible outdoor hobby. All you need is yourself and some water, right? With many of us going through extended ‘lock down’ periods where we’re unable to socialize, many have been looking for alternative ways to get outside in solitude to reconnect with nature.

Wondering what the appeal is or how to get started? We sat down for a chat with Mahesh Hayward to find out what started his wild swimming journey, and what advice he has to pass on to others just starting out. Mahesh is a member of Bournemouth Sea Dippers, a support group for physical and mental health who engage in sea swimming, and the founder of All Us Men, a group looking to provide a safe and supportive space for men and promote mindfulness through yoga and meditation.

How did your wild swimming journey begin?

I’ve always lived on the south coast; I’ve lived in Bournemouth all my life. Growing up as a teenager, I spent a lot of time in the water, but when I hit my mid-twenties I became a father and a business owner and lost my connection to the sea in a lot of ways.

Really it came about during lockdown, my wife loves the water but has a fear of the unknown and deep water and we were unable to work at the time. We wanted to overcome this fear and find something positive we could do together and so we started to swim every morning.

Boscombe Prominade Wild Swimming Sea Swimming

Boscombe Prominade, Bournemouth

Why do you think open water has gained popularity?

It’s about connecting to the open and about nature. We’d been so confined to our little boxes and separating ourselves from everyone else is isolating. If you can be outside you feel connected to something.

Do you have a favourite place to swim?

Yes, Man O’War Cove which is a cove on the Jurassic Coast but also my hometown of Boscombe and Bournemouth.

Is there something about wild swimming that people may be surprised to hear?

Every experience is unique – especially with sea swimming. What’s surprising is when you come down to the sea every single moment of every session is completely unique.

Mahesh after sea swimming

Mahesh in his hometown of Boscombe

How do you think wild swimming connects to mental wellness and self-care?

Of course, wild swimming in any form whether it’s lakes, rivers or the sea makes you feel brave and like you’ve stepped outside of your comfort zone and have done something extraordinary which is a wonderful feeling.

Plus, the fact that you do it outside. Even getting changed and dried off you’re not in a changing room of a health club or a gym – you’re outdoors. I think just recognising that you’re outside all the time is such a big thing as we’re so confined to our cars, our houses and our workplaces. We go from box, to box, to box and it’s about stepping outside that box.

What’s been your biggest swimming highlight?

My highlight was watching my wife grow in confidence – to witness that. I’ve always been bombastic about the water, I don’t mind jumping in and I don’t mind going out far or how deep it is – it’s never phased me. I think that’s because I’ve always lived by the sea and there has always been a connection there. But to see my wife and all of my friends grow in confidence as part of the Bournemouth Sea Dippers is a big highlight for me.

The Bournemouth Sea Dippers wild swimming

The Bournemouth Sea Dippers

How do you think COVID has affected wild swimming?

Not being able to travel abroad means we’re looking for spaces in our own environment to be outside in nature and step out of our comfort zones. Whether it’s a lake or a friend’s pond people are getting into the water because they’re desperate to try and do something outside of Netflix.

What advice would you give to someone trying it out for the first time?

I would always say never go by yourself. Always take someone with you regardless of whether they’re going in or not – just take an observer. Always have a hot drink and always have a good changing robe – that’s my top 3 tips.

Ultimately it’s about experiencing something unique every single time you spend time down at the water. Anyone who surfs, anyone who bodysurfs, anyone that sails, or anyone that’s in the water – even with Bournemouth Sea Dippers who are just ‘dipping’ it’s unique every day. The weather changes, currents change, the colour of the water, the temperature – everything is different each day. There are never two days the same.

Have you tried wild swimming? Let us know your thoughts!

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