I swam in the sea every day at home (in the UK) before coming to NZ for a PhD in 2018, and was adamant to continue here. I’d grown up swimming competitively in the pool but left swimming behind at 18 and pursued more outdoor/adventure-based sports like rock climbing, skydiving and trail running, which I found far more relaxing than the rigour of squad training. Finding outdoor swimming was such a revelation and the perfect combination of enjoying being out in nature whilst also pushing myself physically. It’s always feels so freeing and as if I enter another world when I get into the sea. I need it to stay sane and am ALWAYS a happier Jess after a swim!
Swimming in NZ has been a challenge due to my (very irrational as a marine biologist) fear of Great Whites. The Leigh swimmers Kaye, Ritchie and Marie were the first people I met in NZ and they patiently coaxed me into Mathesons and stayed by my side for those first few swims. Swimming with one arm held high and wrapped up in a plastic bag (following a bike crash and two surgeries) was another challenge; swimming is better than morphine was the conclusion!
There’ve been so many highlights in the form of stunning, fish-filled swims; round Goat Island is always a favourite and Ti Point on a clear day is better than winning the lottery. It’s so lovely to look around on a swim and see a huge pod of colourful caps! I think the highlight though still has to be Ritchie getting me round my first 10km in his little kayak, the sense of achievement and adventure was huge. ** Ritchie capsizing his kayak several times and having to borrow a random child’s kayak from the closest beach, before getting swept towards Rangitoto, just added to the adventure!!
I’m currently training with the hope of attempting a cross-Taupo swim (40.2km) in 2022, so this is the big goal right now. Aside from that, I hope swimming continues to bring me as much joy as it has over the last few years. For many reasons, I haven’t found NZ an easy place to be, but the swimming community has been incredible in making it feel more like home. Swimmers are such a welcoming bunch and have made such an impact on my time here. So many times, I’ve turned up to a swim with a head full of worries, but left with a big grin on my face. That, for me, is why I keep swimming and it’s why I’d tell anyone to give it a go.