wildwomanswimming

One woman's wild swimming adventures in the west country

Porthcurno Performance

Porthcurno Gazing down over Porthcurno beach from the path by the Minack theatre I feel the urge to throw my arms wide and burst into an aria in celebration of its indescribable gorgeousness. It’s a place where endless skies meet endless seas which slam into the cliffs and rebound in a seething mass. My hair is blowing horizontally and my coat is luffing loudly. There are rips pulling the water back out to sea. Should I be sensible, or obey the compulsion to leap into the ocean at once?Matt Performs

Foaming FunFar below in the car park, Matt has already decided to ‘have a look’, so the two of us change behind a slightly sheltered rock where my hair is merely at forty-five degrees. We watch closely for a bit, and decide on an entry spot away from the area where most waves are crossing and where there is no rip. The seas’s atomised in the gale and hits us way before we touch the foam. A couple of Grey Seals are surfing further out. Wading in, the undertow pulls the sand from beneath our feet and there’s an unsettling sensation of movement while the landscape stays where it is and the sea churns.

I’m on my arse before the water’s over my knees, and we’re hit by wave after wave. Matt performs a star jump. As they rear up ready to break, the rollers are illuminated from behind like stained glass in the rarest pale turquoise. Legs aching as we fight the undertow, we’re panting and laughing and diving through, over or under the breaks. We stay well within our depth; there’s no way we can swim safely out. Finally we body surf back in, landing inelegantly on the sand in an exhilarated heap. It’s only then that I notice the cold.Wipe Out!Stained Glass Waves

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9 thoughts on “Porthcurno Performance

  1. That sounds like my attempt at a swim near Brixham on Monday only your scenery is prettier and water clearer.

  2. Just been there for Easter (2013) my phone camera died so I had no photos from its stormy beauty on a Sunday morning, but I was happy to found your photos and rejoice in your brave swim with the waves. Also I could not have described the awe as well as you did, for when I took the steps from the Minack to the beach I too felt like, jump and swim!

  3. Linda Aizlewood on said:

    I have just returned from Cornwall and swam at Porthcurno – I swim twice a week generally @ 80-90 lengths a week – I had a hell of a job getting in to the sea due to the undertow and an even worse time getting out – thank god a chap had his eye on me and gave me his arm to steady me otherwise it would have been a life guard job. Looks beautiful but beware the undertow – in fact at the village I stayed in an old chap told me never to swim there due to the undertow.

    • Hi Linda, sorry you had a bad experience.

      While I’m sure you’re a very good pool swimmer, going into the Atlantic in surf is a whole other entity. I can see how you found it overwhelming, and yes it can be extremely dangerous.

      There are a couple of points I’d like to make though. Firstly, if you understand exactly what you’re doing, what the water’s doing, and the implications of different tides and conditions, then you can make an informed decision about whether to go in or not.

      Matt and I are extremely experienced and educated about the rivers and the seas in which we swim year-round, in all kinds of different conditions. We knew on the day we went that there was a huge rip (we would expect that in those conditions and we could see it) and that there would be undertow (it pretty much goes with the rip). We also knew that there’s a tidal race out past the point. So we made our decisions about where exactly to go, what to do, and how far to go based on that knowledge, on careful observation from the beach, and on our own capabilities.

      On other days, we might not have gone in at all – if you can’t stand up in the undertow then the surf is probably too big!

      On other days, it can be flat and fairly tame, and so we might well have swum along or even a way out on the right tide, since when there is no surf there are no rips there and there is no undertow.

      So to say it’s always too dangerous is not true. If you’re inexperienced outdoors, or unaware of the potential dangers, or a weak swimmer, then yes it probably is unwise to go swimming there at all.

      Linda I don’t mean to contradict you in a negative way, and I hope you don’t take it like that. I dislike the widespread and usually uninformed misunderstandings of the dangers of swimming in the wild, and I’m passionate about knowledge, education and taking informed and controlled risks.

      • Linda Aizlewood on said:

        Hi
        I have just seen your reply and thanks for that.
        You are quite right in that pool swimming is very different to swimming in the sea and I unfortunately got a bit above myself at Porthcurno (I am 65)- I do swim quite a lot at home so thought I could manage it – I have swum out quite a way past Minack some years ago and found myself with a problem trying to get back in – I seemed to be swimming and not getting anywhere – fortunately did in the end.
        It is a beautiful place to be and the sea is spectacular in its setting – I agree with you that you really need to watch the sea to tell what its doing before you step in – and thank goodness there are lifeguards there – because the sea is extremely powerful in the cove
        I am so pleased that you are enjoying the sea

        I did want to get into wild swimming after reading Waterland but I think my time has passed – although I did go out with Mousehole Rowing Club on a bit of a swell and survived.

      • Linda please don’t give up wild swimming! Just choose where you go and when carefully and you’ll be fine. Thanks for your reply! 🙂

  4. Linda Aizlewood on said:

    Hi again
    The book I mentioned is not ‘Waterland’ (thats by Graham Swift) but ‘Waterlog’ by Roger Deakin which describes his adventures wild swimming throughout the UK –
    he starts in the Scillies then Penzance and he does mention Porthcurno – its a bloody good read

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