Kate Moles, Rebecca Olive, Ronan Foley and Tirion Jenkins presenting on the panel, ‘How to swim: Researching bodies in nature’, QRSE 2022, Durham University. Photo: Ted Butryn.
Last week, at the Qualitative Research in Sport and Exercise conference in Durham, I was part of a panel of speakers that discussed how we learn about swimming. A key overall message was that one of the challenging things about researching activities we do in ‘nature’ is communicating our multisensory encounters and experiences. How do we explain what it’s like to walk to the water, to plunge and stroke our way from shore, to see other bodies around us? What is it like to be immersed in water and forests and birdsong. My own way of doing this is through writing and sometimes photographs. I’ve tried to make art about it, but I’m truly no painter, sketcher or illustrator.
Researchers Charlotte Bates and Kate Moles, who are some clever colleagues of mine, solved this issue by working with illustrator, Lily Mae Kroese and sound artist, Jennifer Walton.
Kate and Charlotte swam with several groups of outdoor swimmers in the UK, who swim at various lakes and rivers and beaches. During the pandemic lockdowns they continued to share swimming experiences through virtual spaces, using texts and audio and videos and screenshots and all the kinds of things we shared with the people who kept us each going through those long weeks and months.
The Water Holds Me / The Water Binds Us from Lily Mae Kroese on Vimeo.
The short film they made with Lily Mae and Jennifer, The Water Holds Me / The Water Binds Us, is an expression of some of the collective experiences of the swimmers that stood out during this time. As the film explains, ‘The project explored the multisensory worlds of wild swimming. The ways swimmers understand wellbeing, joy and risk in the water and the bonds that endure throughout these encounters.
It’s a beautiful and charming short film, that carries the kind of multisensory pleasure and the slowness that is such a part of swimming in naturespaces. The multisensory slowness infuses the film, from the watercolour illustrations that must have taken so long, and which embody the kind of textural shifts water places bring; the music and soundscape that features birds and water and laughter and splashing and the wind.
I’m so moved by the intimacy between the swimmers, which is so central in The Water Holds Me. As they zip up each other’s wetsuits and pour each other’s tea, I can feel the care and companionship that is such a huge part of my experiences of ocean swimming too.
Watching this film is a joy and I know I’ll come back to it often and share it as much as I can.