Sink or swim

Swimming is something I have always thought of as a necessity should I ever have to survive falling overboard. As a pleasurable pastime it’s not on the list. I sink, I feel the cold and take on water like a schooner with a breached hull. It is just not my bag.

So it is ironic that on the recent excursion to Anglesey the only toys I had to play with were our new Lotic open water swimming wetsuits. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the water, put me in a canoe, wrap me in a dry cagoule, zip me in a buoyancy aid and I will be out surfing the waves with the rest of the crew, but with swimming every second in the water is a fight for survival.

Not everyone in the team shares my opinion. There they were comparing their brightly coloured flippers, masks and snorkels; when did this turn into a Jacques Cousteau convention? I was outnumbered and the sleek matt black wetsuit at my feet indicated I was joining them.

Pulling on the Lotic wetsuit gave me time to take my mind off the water. Both feet in and slide the legs up, getting it tight under the crotch. So far so good, deep breath. One arm in, pull the cuff up, other arm in, pull the cuff up and over the shoulders. Ok, that’s good. Reach around the back and grab the zip lanyard. Breathe in, hold the base of the zip and zippppppp… I was in. It’s not cool standing around a campsite in a wetsuit so we set forth and spent 20 minutes walking around the headland trying to locate Nick and Claudia.

Walking any distance in a wetsuit is an odd experience. Firstly you look like a tadpole that has just learned to walk and secondly you get surprisingly warm. The Lotic is designed to be flexible, to allow free movement in the water but it shouldn’t be your first choice of attire for a coastal trek.

Companions eventually located, still bobbing around happily in their masks and snorkels. We joined then on the shore. I noted the secluded lagoon was a great ecosystem for the seaweed to flourish. I let the others go in first, faking to sort out the camera while they waded through the slimy forest of weed sheltering who knows what ugly beasties.

The Lotic was tight delaying that penetrating rush of cold water that normally makes wading out such a joy. I was in and I had to admit this was a whole different experience from wearing long johns.

I went straight into my breast stroke, a stroke I knew I could do and breathe at the same time. As I did my legs did something quite surprising, they rose to the surface, would they stop, where would my head go, if I was going to drown it would be now.

So this is what zero gravity must feel like, I was in equilibrium, buoyant - almost! This must be what other people experience when they go on about swimming being relaxing and fun? My confidence was growing.

We were floating around happily like Otters feeding off their bellies, and I had to admit that once I had got used to my feet not hanging directly below my head I was actually enjoying myself. Water was now inside the suit but it wasn’t swishing around and I wasn’t shivering. With my new found buoyancy the other side of the bay was within reach, crossing it no longer felt as hopeless as crossing the Channel.

30 minutes later I strutted back out of that lagoon as a new man, a man who had briefly passed back down the evolutionary chain that had taken us from our mother sea onto dry land. It wasn’t to be the last time I was in the ocean that weekend, and not once was it due to falling overboard.

By Kenny Stocker