JOE MINIHANE - WRITER AND WILD SWIMMER
“Wild swimming is a great way of going on a micro adventure. It can be very visceral, easy to do, and has amazing physical and mental health benefits. There is definitely something about swimming as a curative.”
Suffering from anxiety and depression, writer Joe Minihane found a cure in the cool waters of Hampstead Heath Pond. Wild swimming became a form of meditation, a way of soothing the mind and body. Inspired by Roger Deakin’s book Waterlog, Joe started travelling the UK in search of the wild swimming spots visited by Deakin and has documented the experience in his own book Floating: A Life Regained. I spoke to Joe about the story behind his passion for wild swimming, how swimming has helped him cope with anxiety, and the inspiration for his book.
What inspired your love of wild swimming?
I started regularly going to Hampstead Heath Pond to swim and it would help with my anxiety. Swimming is such a visceral experience, you are around so much nature, birds hovering above you and fish underneath you. If I swim for ten or fifteen minutes I feel much calmer, much more present. I picked up a copy of Waterlog by nature writer Roger Deakin and that became my bible; I would read it again and again and dream of visiting some of the places Roger talks about.
What is it about Deakin’s work you enjoy most?
Deakin is incredibly subversive and anti-authoritarian; he is not interested in pleasing people or following rules. For someone who has not ever really been like that, I found it very appealing.
Explain how you feel when you are swimming?
I found ways of mollifying my anxiety swimming in cold water. In Waterlog, Deakin talks a lot about the idea of “being in the scene”. Once you are in the water, nature ignores you, you are part of it, you are in that scene, not a spectator. That notion resonated with me. The first wild river swim I did I realised what Deakin means; I got dive bombed by a Kingfisher and many unexpected things happened. It was fascinating to feel like you are part of nature, that really calmed me down. Being in nature and the great outdoors is the ultimate stress buster, it is a way of coming back to yourself. Swimming does that for me more so than anything else because it is ultimately a form of survival, if you don’t move your legs or your arms you sink, there is nothing else to think about, your mind can wander off but will always come back to those actions. It is very meditative. I also find it calming because you have to give yourself to something that is bigger - nature. You are in it and part of it but do not have control of it. You float through water like you float through life with things happening around you.
Is the sense of adventure part of your enjoyment of wild swimming?
Wild swimming is a great way of going on a micro adventure. It can be very visceral, easy to do, and has amazing physical and mental health benefits. There is definitely something about swimming as a curative. Our bodies are mostly water; when we swim we are returning to some sort of simplistic state that we do not fully understand.
What inspired you to write a book about your passion for wild swimming?
I started a blog about my wild swimming adventures so I had something beyond work that I could write about. The swimming community is small and welcoming and I realised there was an audience. The blog was dominating my life, I was driving around the country to go swimming, so I started thinking of other ways of documenting my passion and came up with writing a book. I started seeing a therapist about anxiety and he would say I am in a flow state when I am writing, like when I am swimming, so I should do it as much as possible.
Where is your favourite wild swimming spot in the UK?
Bryher on the Isle of Scilly is magical, almost other wordly; you swim out over kelp forests and the sand is pure white, it is absolutely spectacular.
Do you think travel is essential for a creative person?
Getting out and seeing the world and being in nature is very important. Those are the things that inspire me and my writing.
Joe’s book ‘Floating: A Life Regained’ is available on Amazon