Understanding Blue Spaces: Sport, Bodies, Wellbeing, and the Sea

by Rebecca Olive and Belinda Wheaton

We’re really pleased to share a project that we’ve been working on for well over two-years; a double special issue called ‘Understanding Blue Spaces: Sport, Bodies, Wellbeing, and the Sea’ that will be published in Journal of Sport and Social Issues in early 2021. For now, the articles in the special issue (SI) are all available online, albeit sometimes behind paywalls.*

Since the articles are already sitting individually online, we wanted to take this chance to tell you about the topic and to promote the work of the authors who have been part of this project.

More than ever, oceans, seas and coasts seem to be promoted as key places for our health and wellbeing. New programs for cold water swimming, surf therapy, and more seem to be emerging everyday, with the benefits for women’s health, mental health and ageing key areas of focus. Certainly, oceans and seas have long-been examined as spaces of historical, scientific and economic significance, but over recent there has been significant growth in research about bluespaces across a wide range of disciplinary areas, including humanities and social sciences. The term, ‘blue space’, is used to refer to water spaces (e.g. oceans, rivers, lakes and pools), in contrast to green spaces which can be described as terrestrial spaces mostly covered in vegetation including parks, fields, forests and gardens. Reflecting long-standing traditions of the seaside and coastlines as lifestyle and leisure destinations (e.g. thalassotherapy) promoted as beneficial for health and wellbeing. It is contemporary understandings of oceans in human health and wellbeing that this SI seeks to contribute.

Significantly, a growing number of projects explore experiences of physical activities and cultures in oceans not only through Western notions of health, but through diverse cultural ways of knowing and being. By engaging in politics of knowledge, research has challenged notions of oceans as ‘placeless’ by highlighting that how we experience, access and manage blue spaces is no less place-specific than with urban or green spaces. It is embedded in history, community and identity.

In this SI, authors explore the role of sport, physical activities and leisure in understanding oceanic blue spaces as fluid and yet emplaced in local/global politics. Sport, physical activities and leisure practices play a key role in how we understand, experience, access, and develop relationships to seas, oceans and coasts, as well as to self, others and communities – human and non-human. These articles can be read as a conversation across disciplinary areas of work on blue spaces, local, national and trans-national contexts, and diverse recreational practices. The policy and practical applications of blue space range from environmental politics, planning and community development to public health and leisure/recreation management, and these articles offer insights into cultural politics and policy implications of access to, and exclusion from, blue spaces.

We’re really pleased with the collection, and thrilled with the range of authors, topics and activities that are included. In this collection, most authors focus on being in and on saltwater, focusing on being immersed in seas and oceans, and activities span a range of sports and physical cultures including ocean swimming, surfing, sailing/yachting, and waka ama paddling. Articles don’t only explore the joys of being in the water, but the challenges too, and oceans are not assumed to be places of ease and pleasure; racism, sexism, elitism, fear, pollution and more can act as barriers to people accessing the benefits that can come from being around oceans and coasts.

 We have divided these papers into the two issues by mixing the different sporting activities they explore, regions they discuss, and by including both established and emerging blue space and ocean researchers from different disciplines.

Issue 1/2

Issue 2/2

We encourage you to explore this collection of articles, and hope that you’re able to find value in what they offer, individually and collectively. For our part, we’ve learned so much from the work of these authors and are grateful for their continued patience and enthusiasm for this project. We’re also really excited to see this area of work continue to develop as an area of research, but also in terms of activism and policy that establishes healthier oceans for all.

*For those of you not working in academia, this may seem a bit weird, because how are things published but not published? As with many administrative processes in academic life, it’s best not to focus too much on the what seems illogical, and instead accept our explanation that this is an attempt to make information available much faster in what is clearly a world of long timelines.  If you’re unable to access to any of these articles, please feel free to contact us, or the authors.

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