I’m currently in the UK for a month, travelling from south to north for fieldwork and to meet with friends and colleagues to talk about human-ocean health and wellbeing.
Swimming (and surfing) in the UK is a very different proposition than the ocean swims I’ve been focused on in Australia. The water is generally colder across the year, there is more pollution to navigate, there are fewer toothy critters and toxic jellyfish, and often the swimming is about dips not distance. (Thank you to Mental Health Swims for this important and inclusive sentiment, which I hope you don’t mind me using here.) Swimming in different places and in different ways is not better or worse, it’s just different.
Since arriving, I’ve been very lucky to have encountered daily acts of generosity as people take me to their water places, and share a swim with me. I’ve swum in clear, dark ocean water with jellyfish and seaweed, in an estuary that is debatably clean, in city ponds and reservoirs in the middle of London (one I shared with ducks and swans and the others encircled by lush summer trees), in a pond on top of a hill at the base of a slag heap, and at a beach in Scotland on one of the hottest days on record in the UK.
Other times when I spend time with folk, we don’t swim, but we talk about swimming; about what it means to them and their relationships to ocean and river ecologies. We talk about swimming and water and oceans and sea pools and community and fear and politics and design and more.
One of those conversations was with Matt Barr, who hosts the Looking Sideways podcast about action sports. Looking Sideways has a big catalogue of conversations with people with diverse relationships to action sports, from professional athletes to magazine editors to industry folk to community organisations to activists. Matt is thoughtful in how he follows the interesting threads he finds dangling in their answers to his questions. Matt is ensconced in, especially, snowboarding culture so there can be some in-crowd chat when he knows the guest well, but that is the smallest part of something much bigger and more inclusive.
Matt invited me to be a guest on the Patagonia Type 2 series that is part of his podcast, and which focuses on activism in action sports. He offered the chance to talk about my Moving Oceans research and how that gets articulated beyond academia. We didn’t have a chance to swim together, but we sat under a tree in Finsbury Park in the middle of London, in the company of trees, birds and some random guy yelling into his phone in the distance. I really appreciated the chance to talk about my work with Matt, and to think about his thoughtful questions.
You can listen to our conversation here, and I encourage you to check out the many other conversations available there.