15 Feb An Angel Held My Hand
Very recently, a small group of my (sea) friends met up for a dip in the sea.
The conditions didn’t seem anything out of the ordinary, wave height was between 2-3ft, wind didn’t seem so bad either, initially. So we attached our Tow Floats to our waist and excitedly headed to the water.
For one lady, this was her first experience at this particular beach, she generally swims at a beach where it’s mainly flat.
We went in to just above our thighs, we were jumping the waves and laughing – we love those waves, it’s like being a kid again!
I turned round and could see my sister’s face and hair were drenched already, so knew these waves were gaining momentum and height.
My friend who was experiencing these waves for her first time asked “how far out do you go” to which I responded, “never out of my depth” only to find that after the next wave jump, my feet didn’t land on the sea bed, so I suggested calmly that we swim back a little way towards the shore (where we can reach the bottom).
Another large wave came and next thing we’re all split up, I checked where everyone was and could tell by my sister’s face from a short distance away that she was aware of the situation we were in. I couldn’t make the faces out of my other friends but they all ‘seemed’ ok.
From nowhere, the waves were really big and coming from every direction – we were caught in this mashup of waves, criss crossing, doubling up, difficult to keep above the water. We were being pushed and pulled here there and everywhere. I know how important it is to stay calm in these situations. I decided I’d try and make best use of the waves to kind of surf in with them. It wasn’t long before I could touch the bottom again, but still it was difficult to even walk with the strength of this water. I’d never experienced a pull like this in all my years of going into the sea.
My sister managed to make her way out too, and she gasped how frightened she’d been in those few crazy moments. We both turned around and could not tell if our friends were aware of the danger they were in, as they all looked calm, and from where we were, which seemed pretty far away from them, it looked like they were just chatting casually and enjoying the waves. They were being pulled out further and further and I could just see them rising and falling with each wave. Our other friend was just laughing and loving her first experience of the waves, totally oblivious to the situation, which is a blessing as it’s when panic kicks in that tragedy can strike. So we tried smiling with her, while encouraging her to come back in, she was soon out of danger and back within her depth.
We were waving frantically at the other 2 who seemed to be going further and further out. It seemed they couldn’t see or hear us (as they were chatting or so it seemed), the wind was now getting stronger too and so at this point my mind is making calculations, it’s hard to even know what they were as it seemed like time had stopped, and within what seemed like a split second, they’re both back safely on the shore – I cannot fathom how on earth they got to the shoreline, one minute they’re so far out and in the blink of an eye here they are with us, back safely. It was simply a miracle and so I would like to share this experience from my two friends perspectives who were the last ones back safely to shore. One story was written in the form of a beautiful poem.
“My Happy Place
I hear you calling , my happy place
I laugh , relax and feel free
I hear you calling come in….swim just swim
You are welcoming, fun, my happy place….
I move amongst your salty waves
In a blink of an eye the wind does change
You pull me away from the shore….you push me down my breath you take
My friend unaware beckons me to SWIM please SWIM
A strangers hand reaches for mine , hold on to me we will be fine
Yet hand in hand your elements we braced , together was this to be our fate
Stuck within your wall of waves , looking back we really were so brave…
We both have blanks of how we survived, one thing I’m certain of…..that day an earth angel swam by my side…. “
‘Wow I’ve never seen the tide so far out here before,’ we chatted as we walked a long way to the sea under a glorious sky. You could feel the warmth on your skin and the warmth amongst each other as we smiled at the blissful occasion. The shimmering water was cool, but didn’t feel cold. We laughed and jumped with the waves that hit us. It was around midday and it felt so awakening to be down at the beach in a lunch break, chatting to others I’d never met before or didn’t know that well, but the lure of the sea and our open hearts had brought us together. Then, it all changed in an instant. Something powerful and unnerving happened with the tides, and the group got split up. We were immediately alert to the sensation of getting pulled out fiercely away from shore and that the waves had dramatically increased in energy and were now completely erratic.
Every direction around us was completely wild and we were just trying to stay calm in the adversity that was close to overwhelming us. A few catastrophic thoughts flashed through our minds, but there was absolutely no time to dwell on that. The only option was to talk positive, remain calm and dig deep together, whatever you want to call it, but it worked. It fucking worked! Thank fuck it worked! (Apparently, I did a lot of swearing afterwards and nobody had heard me swear before!). We were safe, we were all safe. But, in every bit of our bodies we knew how close that was. Where do you go from that point? Well that was always going to be the tricky bit, how you process the emotion of what happened and how you bounce.
With such loving kindness around us, I knew we would bounce pretty well. We all talked about the experience and tried to understand what had happened. We asked more experienced swimmers and lifesavers for their opinions so we could quickly learn how to be more equipped. But let’s be honest here, the event had been traumatic and our emotions and physicality needed more attention. We all deal with traumatic experiences differently. Hours after the event, I could still feel the stressful impact on my racing thoughts and arousal levels. ‘Your body knows how to heal, it’s only your mind that gets in the way,’ I looked at the phrase pinned to my wall. It was time to use the tools that our Wild Sea Women community had taught us, who’d have known this is where they would come in handy. With XHayle’s soothing music on, the candles lit, I did several rounds of breathing and I started to do some very gentle Hot Pod yoga. When the thoughts reappeared, I couldn’t leave them to their own devices. By calmly repeating phrases to myself and listening to an audiobook, I managed to distract most of them. It took time and effort, but gradually stuff started to settle. It’s now been a couple of days since that dramatic moment. It’s not been easy, but it’s getting easier.
Today, with the company of understanding friends, I went to the beach and glanced at the roaring waves. There was no lure to be in there today, just complete respect for the sea.
Of course tomorrow may be a different story…”
To conclude with my own thoughts. We swam at a time when the sea/tide was moving at its slowest (one of the safest times to dip), the tide had just stated coming in and as aforementioned we’d checked the wave height too, along with the wind and all looked fine.
It didn’t matter how experienced I may have thought I was, how much I assume I understand the sea which I swim/dip in pretty much every day – nature is and always will be unpredictable. It can catch us out at any time.
My friends were in difficulty and from the shore we did not pick up on this, they were unable to raise their arms for help simply because they weren’t able to due to the waves, all they were conscious of was ways to stay afloat, to stay alive.
I have gone into the sea since my early 20’s and have never experienced anything like the conditions that day – it was a day of the full moon – the strength of the water was freaky and the tide I’d never seen out this far, ever, I know the effects the moon phases have on the sea, but still this was rare to see and feel. Maybe it was one of those rare occurrences which happens only every now and then, but whatever it was, it has certainly made us all more vigilant every time we go into our ‘happy place’.
Take aways from this experience – always have your phone in the sea with you. Wear a Tow Float. If the sea looks different to how it usually looks take extra caution. Be aware that swimming in groups often gives a false sense of security, we can feel overly confident assuming others could save us if needed. Never dip alone or if you do, simply sit at the shore line and allow the waves to wash over you for that cold water fix. Read more about sea safety here
We knew we had to get back on the horse so to speak, to ride those waves again. Nature is always teaching us and we will continue to learn. Together.
Photo credit -John Alderson