When I meet Sarah Rowland she is missing the sea. She tells me:
“I went down the other day with some friends just to watch and it made it worse because I was thinking I could be in!”
Sarah is in recovery from a knee injury and is unable to go swimming. Normally, she spends a couple of mornings a week plunging into the cold water at King Edward’s Bay, in Tynemouth. She explains:
“The loose rule is a minute per degree. We’re really very mindful of not staying in too long, even when you come out of the water your core temperature has still dropped.”
This normally means about seven minutes in the water for Sarah and her group. She tells me:
“It’s about 7 degrees at the moment. The coldest we’ve been in was 6 I think.”
Sarah’s introduction to cold water swimming came from two sources – a nutritionist and her friend John. Sarah explains:
“About four years ago I went to see a nutritionist and he recommended some things for mental health and one of the things was to go cold water swimming 3 times a week, then at the beginning of last year, I had a friend who had started going cold water swimming and he kept saying ‘Sarah come!’ and I kept saying ‘yeah I’ll come…’ then it got to the point where I couldn’t put him off anymore so I started going last August!”.
Sarah started off with a group of her close family and friends, but since then it has expanded.
“ I went with John to start with. His girlfriend and my daughter came and then gradually more and more people have joined the group.”
The Chick Dippers and JP
Sarah came up with the name “The Chick Dippers and JP” for her group.
“My friend is called John Paul, and all the other people were girls so I said, let’s call it The Chick Dippers, and John said, ‘don’t forget me!’ so it’s the Chick Dippers and JP’ and that’s what the group has stuck at even though more men have joined.”
The group has a WhatsApp chat to organise their outings:
“There’s probably about 15 to 20 people in the group, but not everyone goes at the same time.”
The ages of the group span from thirty to seventy years old.
A typical morning on the water starts bright and early at 6am for Sarah.
“I get up, I have all my stuff laid out. Then at about 7 I tend to drive over with a couple of friends who live nearby. We head on down to King Edwards Bay.”
Each person in the group has a different approach to the water, Sarah explains:
“There’s some people in the group who take a bit longer to get ready, and there’s some people who wanna be in straightaway. There’s different styles of approaching the water – some people take a bit longer to sort of splash their arms and acclimatise their bodies.”
Sarah has her own approach:
“I tend to just try and get straight in because otherwise I could talk myself out of it!”
When the splash is over, the number one priority is getting warm. Sarah admits:
“We come out, and we all are very adept at getting changed in our dry robes so we’re not flashing at the beach!”
After the dip is over, the group has some social time together:
“Most times we go for a drink afterwards. If it’s a weekend we have a bonfire and breakfast.”
The Chick Dippers and JP have a special rule for their socialising – they don’t talk about work. Sarah thinks this is one of the reasons she keeps being drawn to the dips:
“When I first started doing it I wondered what kept compelling me to go back. I was saying this to my friend – because you do get addicted to it. She said she thinks it’s because you just live in the moment, you’re there and you think about nothing else”.
When I ask her about the benefits of the dip, the first thing she says is the “camaraderie” of the people she goes with.
“When you’re in the sea, you’re all equal. There’s no kind of hierarchy.”
The sea has touched Sarah emotionally as well, as she warmly describes to me “that unspoilt feeling of just the beach, the sea, the rocks”. These benefits have stayed with her even after she’s left Tynemouth, “I think it helps your sleep brings your blood pressure down,” she tells me, “When I haven’t done it I’ve noticed that my thinking is not as clear.”
The power of the sea
The sea has been kind to Sarah, but it has also taught her valuable lessons about nature. She says “the power of the sea” can scare her, and tells me about a time when “somebody in the group had been dragged out a little bit and that was quite scary. I think to begin with I felt a bit invincible – but actually it can be quite dangerous.”
The group has learnt from these instances though – “we’ve all got tow floats which you strap around yourself to swim with and we got bright hats so you can be seen.”
Luckily though, the main emotion Sarah has taken from the sea is euphoria. She says:
“I think there is a euphoric kind of feeling that you get after you do it. It’s the feeling of, I’ve done it- I’ve got over the cold and I’ve managed to get myself in this water and after a while you don’t notice the cold.”