YEARS ago, a friend and I went swimming.
She was in her 20s and lived in a coastal town and had never been in the ocean or on the beach. I was, in the words of the then-government and its signs, a White, and she was a Black.
It was South Africa – and just the year before, the beaches and swimming pools were finally open to all races.
Even though it was now legal, my friend did not visit the beach. The law, enacted 36 years previously, had done its job, cemented in her mind that beaches were not places for her.
Even today, some White South Africans call their countrymen “nonswimmers’’, an ugly covert way of saying Blacks.
So, with signs gone, we venture down. We hold hands and walk in. She is terrified. I hadn’t thought this through and, for a moment, it seemed a very bad idea. The suck of the waves around her feet almost sends her running for shore, but we link arms, hold each other and let the waves break around our legs, feeling the bubbles and foam.
“It is like spiders,’’ she says. I am puzzled, until she explains – spiders like the fizzy, frothy milk bar beverage of soft drink and ice cream.
Taking someone into the ocean for the first time is a privilege. The fear is that of a child, who usually have their first sea experience in a parent’s arms. It’s like you jump-start their stalled engine with a set of jumper leads. Coming out, we stand breathless at water’s edge, towels wrapped around shoulders. “This thing, it is so very big and powerful,’’ she says.
So I tell her about my home far away across the ocean, of long summer days in the calm warm water. I tell her that scuba diving at night is like stealing into a cathedral by candlelight, a thief surprising sleeping fish and octopus. And I tell her about the calm that falls over you after the swim, even after being pummelled by waves and spat out. Yet, despite being in the word business, I didn’t have the exact words to describe that feeling.
Now, writer and ocean advocate Wallace J. Nichols has nailed it. He calls it “blue mind’’ and writes: “As a marine biologist as familiar with the water as I am with land, I believe that oceans, lakes, rivers, pools, even fountains, can irresistibly affect our minds. Reflexively we know this.’’ In his latest book, Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do’’ (Little, Brown) he wants to change the way we think, act and feel around water. (And yes, the titles of books are getting ridiculously longer every year.).
Nichols says the term “blue mind’’ has been coined to describe the calm, peacefulness, unity and sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment that people feel in and around water. He explores the neuroscience of our brains on nature, believing that our love of the natural world holds the key to preserving it. Scientists are compiling evidence that our brains, basically, love the ocean.
So, how could you live so near something so beautiful, so healing and transformative, and not be there as often as possible? And yet, here we are this morning, best beaches on our doorstep and, when was the last time you were immersed in brine?
Be honest. How thick is the dust on that surfboard under the house? Do you even know where your togs are?
We know the middle of winter is the best time and the water temperature – despite low temps outside – have been unbelievably comfortable.
You don’t have to be a gung-ho 20-year-old.
Down at Rainbow Bay on the border, a bunch of 70 and 80-somethings swim right through winter. At 6am they are in there, swimming, standing and chatting, like they have no working nerve endings. There are even a couple of hard-core one-legged ones. It’s like a scene from the film, Cocoon.
A woman I know says her mother, 74, is one of the daily dawn swimmers at Noosa: “She used to suffer arthritis badly but doesn’t since she started winter swimming. They’re like footballers taking ice baths. But tougher!’’
Have you been in the ocean for your swim this morning? Or this week, this month, this season? Good grief, coastal Queenslanders – and you wonder why you are all out of whack, cranky and a bit blue?
Me either. What madness. But I am about to rectify that this very day
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