I don’t know where to start. Ummm, I’ll break it down and go from the beginning with some logistics and factual events before diving in, pardon the pun, to the emotional side of the Dark Mofo Winter Solstice Nude Swim.
So, logistics. More than 1,000 people gathered at Long Beach in Hobart’s Sandy Bay and were presented with towels and red cap for the event before huddling around the seven or eight fire pots, chatting to random people and getting to know some of the like-minded who have decided to bare all in the name of whatever reason they had. I’ll come back to this interaction later (1 below).
About 15 minutes out, the Royal Surf Lifesaving snoozer got up and shouted all the instructions for the swim, these included telling us how many (25) lifeguards were on duty, and that is was time to “get changed”.
This process was interesting as people went to changing rooms to maintain their modesty which I thought was well Irish. Some, like me, got changed on the footpath and wrapped up in a towel before heading back to the fire pot for one last dose of heat that would hopefully carry me through… it didn’t. Others were happy to just wander around, bits akimbo, getting ready for the dip. It was about this point where I felt like I was the only person I knew in the postcode. Sure, I had spoken to some strangers and then, suddenly, I got a hug from a big naked man. It was nice to see Jimmy, brother to my best mate Jono, after a fair while and, surprisingly, it made me feel even more comfortable about what I was going to do. Not so much that I’d cast my towel off and had a sausage sizzle on the fire pot before I went in, but more at ease that this place wasn’t just filled with freaks and weirdos.
Have you ever read The Great Dog Bottom Swap by Peter Bently and Mei Matsouka? I imagine the scenes at Long Beach were very similar was the dogs in the book checked their dates into the cloak room, much like the people at the beach check their modestly at the registration table.
The call came to go to the beach. Full of trepidation I headed toward the sand, following Jimmy who, despite being a first timer like me, looked like he knew what he was on about. Nervously I chatted to a group of ladies behind me, five midwives from Launceston, who were doing this for the first time. Then we heard the thumping of a big bass drum being belted by a Buddhist monk. Slowly at first then faster and faster, making my heart race as is reached a crescendo which was like a drumroll and a flare was lit and, as F1 Commentator David Croft says, “lights out and away we go!”
The initial fears of being nude were swept away instantly as everyone charged toward the bloody cold water. I didn’t stop running until the water was up past my belly button and the I realised it was colder that I could imagine. But I figured I’d come this far so in for a penny, in for a pound and I waded out to my shoulders before shivering like buggery and deciding that was enough.
Back on land it was strange again. People standing around in the altogether around fire pots drying off while other sought the sanctuary of the change facilities.
1 (from above) I promised to talk about the emotional side and human element of the swim. I spoke to about 20 people over the course of the morning and learned that there were people from all walks of life, big, small, large dong, old, young and a pretty even split of males and females. Everyone was in it for their own reason. I was there to take part in some deviant leisure, break the shackles a bit and do something completely new. Other were saying things like “If you don’t do something crazy in your life you haven’t had much of a life” and “I was going to do it last year but I had a new girlfriend (this guy must have been 55!) and thought it was inappropriate. This year she said I was crazy and should go for it”.
The midwives were a great bunch of friends who thought it would be a laugh and others have been coming back each year since it started.
Emotionally, it was not what I expected. I was anticipating a “giddy little thrill” but what I got was a slap in the face with a big wave of empowerment, freedom, excitement and coldness (physical cold, not emotional).
As the drum beat got faster and faster I felt my heart rate go through the roof and this was only exacerbated by the frigid water but the increased heart rate released endorphins that carried me deeper and deeper into the bay and closer to reaching a point where I had sustained all I could physically. Emotionally though, I wanted to stay in the water longer. I waded back to being about waist deep in the water and stood for a minute soaking in the surrounds of naked bodies, cold water and a beautiful sunrise over Hobart’s Eastern Shore. For a moment in time I was as close to nature as I’ve physically been able to be in my right mind. It was such an adrenaline rush that sits high on my list of most exciting things ever, behind the big things like babies being born, getting married etc. and in the realms of pushing your motorcycles to the limit and nailing every corner on my favourite bit of road or scoring 100 (yes, I have done that…once) or tucking into the best oysters I’ve ever had.
I guess you have worked out by now that, yes, I would and plan to do it all again next year. This time with a little experience under my belt which will help me manage my towel. When the flare goes off everyone drops their towel and I had no idea which plain white towel was mine so ended up grabbing the closest one I could find. Maybe I’ll be like Jimmy and parade in the buff leaving my towel with my jacket, thus not getting sand on it either. On the subject of modesty, I couldn’t help but think in the sea slug from Beached Az so here he is https://youtu.be/0-8h3gk5VDw
Wrapping up, a dip in 12-degree water in the middle of winter in Hobart might not seem like everyone’s cup of tea, but knowing you can have a cuppa to warm up after, I would encourage anybody I know to give it a crack (pun intended).