On Sunday 8th March 2020, 83 swim groups around the world swam for International Women’s Day raising over £10,000 for charity. Vicky Allen, a key instigator in the #IWDswimrise movement, reports on her swim in Edinburgh.
The message of this year’s International Women’s Day was “each for equal”, and it feels, often, as if we are all equal in the water, in our seas, rivers and lakes. Swimrise is chiefly the brainchild of Anna Deacon, author of Taking The Plunge, and body positivity ambassador Danni Gordon. It was their dream. Speaking of the urge to roll-out the swim wider, Danni said: “After the vibrant and diverse celebration of 2019’s swim we couldn’t wait to recreate the camaraderie on an even bigger scale for International Women’s Day 2020. Outdoor swimming is about defying your own idea of yourself. Pushing through what you think you are capable of and recognising that you, your body and all bodies, are amazing.”
There were over 300 of us out there, wading, floating, plunging through the bracing North Sea off Portobello beach, Edinburgh. It felt, as we swam out there, as if we were floating not just on the water, but an ocean of women, in solidarity. The sea is a place of connection. On International Women’s Day it connected us with others across the world, those who fought for rights before us, and those we were raising money for – for this was also a fundraiser for women’s charities.
A drone image taken from above, in which our heads look like birds there, bobbing in a big, dark sea, says so much about that feeling of smallness, yet being part of something. When we organised last year’s International Women’s Day swim at Wardie Bay beach, Edinburgh, we had no idea that over seventy people would come along that year, and that this year, thanks to the support of The OSS in sharing the plan, around 1500 would join us on dips around the UK and globally. There were 83 swims that we know of in total. We thank all those who did, for coming together and making Swimrise a powerful message and fundraiser. We were moved by knowing you, our fellow swimmers of all genders, were out there too.
At Portobello, we surged into the water as a huge, long line. Last year, someone described the photograph of this line, before it entered, as “a barcode of happiness”. This year, that barcode had got bigger, longer, even more joyful. It even danced on the beach, warming-up from the sea’s invigorating chill, with a gleeful Zumba session. Rose, one of the swimmers, summed the swim up as, “Very unifying. Everyone runs in screaming. It’s a joyful, unified scream. It feels good to do something together with women, especially with all the Harvey Weinstein stuff going on. It feels like a big moment.”
These swims were done to raise money for a range of around fifty different charities – for Rape Crisis, Wearside Women In Need, Jersey Women’s Refuge, Anawin Birmingham, Ayrshire Women’s Hub, the Nelson Trust, the Oasis Project, Yada, Homestart, the Marsha Phoenix Trust and others. Around £10,000 was raised nationwide.
Many, like ours, were fundraising for Women’s Aid. One such swim was organised by a domestic abuse survivor, who said, at the start of her swim, “We’re celebrating by being together. But we are also celebrating something in particular: freedom from domestic abuse. And as we enjoy the immediate glorious, burning cold freedom of a dip in the sea, and the lasting sense of contentment from having exposed ourselves to nature’s beauty, we can and should revel in our freedom.”
She recalled, “The sea is my favourite of Planet Earth’s wonders. I love looking at it, I love being in it. And it was standing in the sea, in Greece, where it is so beautiful, and realising that I could feel absolutely nothing, that made me realise what living with daily verbal and sometimes physical abuse was doing to me.
Swims also took place in Shetland, Orkney, Isle of Wight, Jersey, Guernsey, Toronto (Canada), Buenos Aires (Argentina), Phillip Island (Australia), Sydney (Australia), Greystones (Ireland), Good Harbour Beach (Massachusetts), Portrush (Northern Ireland), and across UK and the world.
We were moved by the photographs people sent to us from across the UK and the world, and the joy they expressed. Many, like us, had tumbled out of bed to breathtaking sunrises. At Eastney beach, Southsea, they described the sky and sea as deep scarlet, and “almost Biblical”.
Some faced a tougher show from the elements. At Penzance Battery Rock, there was only a glimpse of pink sky, followed by “ominous black cloud overhead and then a heavy hailstorm”. “Stoicism and cheery smiles,” they said, in true outdoor-swimmer style,“were undaunted by the freezing conditions.”
At 7.30am, Australia-time, under grey skies, at Coogee beach, 11 women who met through the Vladswim Squad in Sydney set out for a short swim raising money for Dress for Success Sydney. In Wales, seven hardy souls enjoyed probably the highest sunrise Swimrise at Keeper’s Pond on the Blorenge in the Black Mountains (470m up) near Abergavenny. “Most of us got up around 5.15am to get there, for 6.30am,” they said. “Water temp was 3.1 degrees. Rain held off, clouds cleared and we actually enjoyed a sunrise.”
Three swimmers dipping in the waters of Loch Sunart witnessed an eagle flying overhead. “As we drove home afterwards,” they said, “it began to rain and a rainbow appeared.”
There were also beach fires, skinny dips, cakes, breakfasts, yoga warm-up and singing. Swimmers at the Glove Factory, Holt, exchanged small gifts – soap, chocolate, mermaid pens – and made a collection for a women’s refuge. The Salty Sea Birds of Brighton spelled out WOMEN with their swimmers. “We did VULVA last year as a response to a man mansplaining what he thought a vulva was on twitter,’ they said. “We toned it down this year.”
As Saxon Mill, Leamington, a group raising money for Anawin women’s centre, “It was a wonderful morning and people we didn’t even know turned up to swim as it was IWD so we made new friends. We went naked as we always try to do. We all brought things to share for brekkie afterwards, from overnight oats to keto soup and halloumi fried on a camp stove. We stood in a circle at the end and spontaneously sang a round of Bella Mama (beautiful mother) before we walked back to the cars to carry on our days. And all before 8am!”
There was also a swim group of women who had all given birth in the last year, plunging into the chill waters of Lake Windermere. “This is what we do to nurture ourselves,” they said. “We support the south Cumbria breastfeeding charity which was supported us and women throughout our local area.”
Here at Portobello beach, there was the chatter of mass elation following the swim. All seemed to be on a high. Lucy, a swimmer, observed, “It’s nice to do it on something like International Women’s Day. This is such a liberating thing to do together. Also to engage your bodies on a day like this. The rest of the day might be about lots of social media posts, and thinking about technicalities, and it’s really nice to have a very freeing start to the day.”
Holly Manson, who had recently moved to Edinburgh from Ireland, said, “It’s so great going in with a big group of girls, getting their kits off and nobody cares what anyone looks like – we’re just all together, going on. I just love it. It’s so empowering isn’t it? And everybody is just so happy.”
We were amazed by the numbers of people who turned out. Thanks to all those who helped us in Edinburgh. To the Swimrise team – Sara Robertson (so many things), Alison Parker, Gemma Wylie, Anna Moffat (photos), Chris Mcintyre (drone footage), Rob Waugh (videographer). Joanna Weintritt (Zumba), Iain Jack (endless help). We so appreciated you too.
But above all thanks to all those who took part. We salute all those who swam in the dips that took place in Maidencombe Beach, Southsea, Portsmouth, Longniddry, Loch Lubnaig, Phillip Island, Enogerra Reservoir (Australia), Jersey, Sunderland, Rousay, Green Hows Tarn, Bangor, Dover, Helen’s Bay (Northern Ireland), King Edward’s Bay (Tynemouth), Salcombe, Swanage, Troon, Cirencester, Teignbridge, Clevedon, Iona, Loch Tay, Whitmore Bay, Loch Sunart, Gower, Felixstowe, Shoreham-by-sea, Holt, Seaburn, Teddington, Loch Earn, Margate, Penzance, Calshot, Salthouse Beach, River Stour, Breckland, Lossiemouth, Brighton, Lake Windermere, Orkney, Portmarnock, North Berwick, Buenos Aires, Beckenham Place Park Pond, Sandown, Toronto, Guernsey, Lyme Regis, Carradale, Oban, Shetland, Weston-super-Mare, Bettystown, Perranporth, Bexhill, Parliament Hill, Surrey, Sheffield, Good Harbour Beach (Massachusetts), Loch Morlich, Wardie Bay, Porthminster Beach, Glasgow, Frensham Great Pon, Greystones, Somerset, Portrush, Rathmullan, Rose Avenue Beach (Australia), Warwickshire, Carlingford, Swanpool Beach, Wiltshire, Shoreham Beach, Nairn Beach.
You are all Swimrise and we love you for it.