Aberdeen Finds Community Spirit Down by the Beach

It’s the first sunrise of a new week, and I’m in my swim trunks down by Fittie Beach. In days gone past the only reason I or anyone else my age would have for being up at this time would be because we haven’t slept yet from the night before, and yet looking around me there seems to be a remarkable turn out of like-minded young people seeking out more Covid-friendly thrills as the sun comes up.

We’re all here for one reason; one cause. To go for an early morning dook in the baltic waters of the salty North Sea. To get here in time for dawn I had to forego my usual morning coffee, and yet wading into the water any remaining sleepiness is banished from my mind as my breaths grow shorter and goosebumps rise on my skin. Of course, it’s no accident that so many of us have turned out in force this morning. The Wet Bandits page on Instagram has been at the centre of this small but enthusiastic community since it was founded only a couple of months ago now, and it’s really caught on.

Something about the cold water dips have really resonated with people during this lockdown. I wanted to better understand this connection and explore what it was that had drawn so many, including myself, to take the plunge, and what this shared ritual meant for Aberdeen’s sense of community and belonging in the times of Covid. Who better to pose such questions to than the Wet Bandits themselves, so I got in touch with one of their founders Kieran who was happy to share his reflections with us below. Enjoy!

How long have you been cold water dipping yourself? What draws you towards it personally? 

My friend Sam Brill introduced me to dips in the sea at the beginning of January. I normally spend my summers in the rivers but this is the first time I have swam in the sea since a child.

What inspired you to start Wet Bandits? 

Apart from being a massive Home Alone fan, the benefits I felt after leaving the water were immense. The sense of achievement along with the rush of adrenaline is hard to replicate legally. I initially struggled to get any of my friends to join me in the mornings or at least get them to come back for more. So I eventually got a few friends that felt the same way about the cold water and made a WhatsApp group to communicate instead of me messaging everyone separately. Then I progressed to making the Wet Bandits Instagram to share the amazing sunrises etc. and it has grown ever since, breaking over 2000 followers.

What do you think has motivated people to come and take part in your cold water swims right now? 

I think everyone is a little lost just now, not many people have a direction and although things are getting better in regards to Covid a normal life is still quite far away. We can see light at the end of the tunnel but how long has this tunnel still got to go? Mental health issues have increased exponentially and to be honest the help out there is pretty woeful. Having something to get up for and doing it with a group of like minded people is a great way to lift your mood and be part of something positive.

Your swims are always scheduled for very early in the mornings, around sunrise. What would you say to try and convince those of us that aren’t early risers that it’s worth getting out of bed for? 

I get messages all the time from people that are really interested about cold-water swimming but they are bit apprehensive and worried. I ask them if they could come down to the beach and watch the sunrise as it really is something special on a good day. This way they get to actually see us in the water and feel the community vibe we have down there. Once they have witnessed that, it’s hard not to want to be a part of the gang. I was never a morning person either and have always struggled to get up in the morning but once I got into doing these swims, I found it so easy to get up for and when I am away working offshore I really miss it.

What advice do you have for people attending their first dook? What can they expect? What do they need to bring with them? 

We have multiple safety awareness posts on our Instagram profile, including an amazing video from the RNLI about safety tips and awareness during cold water swimming. We recommend everyone that is coming to join us to view and read these articles. Cold water showers and baths are a great introduction to learning to control your stress response in a safe and controlled environment. As fun and as exhilarating these swims can be they are still very dangerous and the sea has to be respected at all times. A list we recommend new swimmers that are joining us are as follows:

In the water: swim suit / shorts or whatever you feel comfortable in. Water shoes if available or old trainers, not only to protect your feet from stones etc standing around in bare feet can lose vital body heat you need to warm back up. If you can keep your head above water a woolly hat can provide extra insulation and keep body heat maintained.

After the water: It is so important to have all your stuff organised and ready for you when you leave the water, you don’t want to be faffing around looking for your clothes and towel etc. You will need a large towel, warm loose clothing that’s easy to get into, thick socks, hat, gloves, and a big jacket. Lots of warm layers to stop your body losing anymore heat. Your body will still be cooling down for 30/45 mins after leaving the water. Hot water bottles and a warm drink are a great idea also.

My routine when I leave the water is grab my towel as quickly as possible and go for a little jog and do some star jumps to get the blood flowing back into my extremities. I then get my poncho on and start removing any wet layers. Ponchos are a total game changer for minimising time exposed to the cold air and you can get changed with ease.

Lastly, a lot of your posts touch upon the ethos of creating a positive community spirit and it seems like you’ve swiftly built up a wonderful group of likeminded people passionate about early morning dooks! Why do you think community is important in a place like Aberdeen? 

The vibe and feeling we have created down there in the mornings are something special. As I mentioned above I think we were all a little lost after going through yet another lock down, and the social aspect of these swims is vital for people’s mental health. Hardly anyone knew each other before this and now new friends and relationships have been formed. I think Aberdeen has always had a strong sense of community spirit; people are always there ready to help each other when needed. Sometimes activities like this are needed to highlight the positive aspects of our city and the people that live here. We have amazing assets on our doorstep, not many places in the world have access to stuff like this. If we can take any positives from this horrible period it’s that Covid has allowed people to explore the outdoors again and discover new experiences.

You can catch the Wet Bandits’ latest goings on over on their Instagram (@wet_bandits2021). They meet every Monday to Saturday morning at 6:30am at Fittie Beach. Bring your dookers!

Words and Interview by Charlie Forbes

Photography courtesy of Sam Brill (instagram: @sambrill)

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