The Paekākāriki Mermaids

All over the world, people are taking to frigid seas, lakes and rivers ‘like fish to water’. Paekākāriki has a couple of brave groups that swim in the sea all year around. In this article we find out about The Paekākāriki Mermaids.

The Paekākāriki Mermaids. Photo: Bob Zuur

The Paekākāriki Mermaids are a pod of women who meet every morning, rain or shine, at Ocean Road steps to brave The Briny. While some were previously lone dippers, Vicki Farslow and Kamala Patel initiated the early morning group swim. They are easily recognisable by their long, belted, striped woollen dressing gowns. Kamala’s four-legged friend, Haari, is another founding member of the ‘Swim Every Day Club’ but is loath to dip a paw and merely watches benignly from the side-line.

All over the world, people are taking to frigid seas, lakes and rivers ‘like fish to water’. There are even YouTube videos on how to find or form a mermaid pod https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aa-6cEMvyr0&ab_channel=CourtneyMermaid

We are part of an international phenomena based on growing evidence on the health effects of cold-water immersion. https://www.sciencefocus.com/the-human-body/cold-water-swimming-why-an-icy-dip-is-good-for-your-mental-and-physical-health/

Purported benefits include increased circulation, release of endorphins, and heightened resistance to other life stressors. Many claim that it can even alleviate depression. A Dutch man Wim Hof,  known as ‘The Iceman’, has turned being engulfed in icy water, along with breathing exercises, into an international movement.

There are certainly plenty of whoops, shrieks, and yells as we hit the water. Some dive straight in and swim for a bit while others enter more gingerly, happy to stand in the sea and just encounter it, including being buffeted by large waves.

So far It has been a great season with wonderful pink sunrises, fascinating cloud formations, and wildly varying conditions, but still warmish water. The endless variety of sea states – battering waves, smooth rolling waves, or calm, mirror-like swimming pool conditions – somehow not only physically invigorates but also buttresses against the daily challenges ahead. Like life itself, the conditions are random and infinitely changeable.

Most of us came along reluctantly in the beginning, claiming we couldn’t possibly do it – fearing a heart attack or worse – but then quickly got hooked. It’s hard to beat the exhilaration of getting in or the afterglow once you’re out.

But then again, as of late May/early June, the water is still relatively ‘warm’ at around 15 degrees Celsius. Will we all be so dogged come July or August when sea temperatures drop to around 11 degrees? Then comes Spring with its own challenges: the Roaring Forties’ winds that scour the beach often proving more challenging than the sea itself.

To deal with the cold, we now have a ‘team hat’, made of wool-lined neoprene; important in wintry conditions when heads feel the cold. Some of us wear neoprene sox, gloves, and vests but as the sea becomes chillier ‘neoprene envy’ is likely to take hold. More neoprene may well emerge, I’m sure. In contrast to some overseas mermaid pods, our kit has not yet expanded to include tails.

A major drawcard is Kamala’s inspiring early morning, pre-swim txts describing the marine and meteorological conditions. A relatively low-tech barometer is the state of feline Shashi’s fur when she comes inside first thing.

Then there is the camaraderie and laughter afterwards as we struggle into a motley assortment of warm clothes. When the tide obliges, the seawall serves as a convenient clothing ledge.

The winter solstice, 21 June, is rapidly approaching: the shortest day when many fine-weather swimmers will brave the water just for the hell of it. But as one regular dog walker recently commented “Swimming that day will be just like another day at the office for you lot!”.

If you want to join us, come along to Ocean Road steps at 7.30am on a weekday or 8am on a Sunday. Mermen are also welcome!

For me the daily swim connects me spiritually, physically and emotionally to the very essence of Mother Nature. Rough, cold or calm you sure know you are alive! Lying back in the sea with the morning light shining on to beautiful Kāpiti Island confirms the gratitude I feel for living on the Kāpiti Coast. The camaraderie is special too. It has changed my perspective on life and improved my general well-being. – Jude D, a Paekākāriki Mermaid