I’ve always been drawn to the water. Growing up in Portstewart it’s something that you can’t ignore. Family beach days and running into the waves, often leaving me soaked to the core but with a massive smile on my face. As I’ve gotten older and tried new watersports activities, that delight at being totally soaked isn’t always there, but the smile is just as big. Watersports offer the opportunity to experience the sea (or pool) in a di erent way, through di erent activities; sailing, sea swimming, stand up paddle boarding, surfing, wakeboarding, freediving, and kayaking and so on. Each one activity brings a new lease of exhilaration. They also offer their own unique challenges and rewards. Females are one of the most underrepresented groups in watersports but a recent campaign from SportNI and Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland called ‘Get Wet NI’ is attempting to get more women involved. It’s a great opportunity to try a new sport, meet some new people and learn new skill at clubs all across Northern Ireland. My own experiences of watersports will hopefully help give you an idea of what might be right for you and a taste of what to expect when you’re on (or in!) the water.
I sailed for a short period when I was younger, and I really enjoyed how chilled it was once you learnt the ropes (literally). During lockdown a friend and I were able to jump into a 2 person dingy and sailed across West Bay in Portrush one blustery Friday afternoon. Thankfully, she’s an experienced sailor so I was in safe hands. I didn’t remember everything, but it has given me the bug again and I’m planning to head along to some of the upcoming taster courses. Sailing is a great example of something you can drop for a while and come back to, you can do it with friends and there are sailing clubs all over the country to give you a hand. It’s also one of the most popular activities in the GetWet NI campaign. There are events taking place in Newcastle, East Antrim and more planned in other areas throughout July.
Surfing was always something I thought I could do. It can be intimidating for females in the water especially with the ‘surfer dudes’ dominating the waves and making it look so easy. Thankfully, the north coast has its own Girls Only Surf Club, ‘Gutsy Girls’. It operates through Longline Surf School in Benone and was the perfect way to grasp the skills in a female only environment – much easier than trying to figure it out on your own. Dan and Rebecca are the perfect coaches and make it such an enjoyable experience – so much so, I bought my own board and can now head out into the waves when I want.
Last year when COVID-19 took over the world, it ignited a newfound appreciation of the sea for many people. “What can we do that isn’t walking?” was a frequently asked question. The answer for many, was sea swimming. Last June a friend and I decided to try it and, despite the sun shining, the water was baltic, a proper shock to the system. Still, we enjoyed it so much that we immediately started plotting our next dip. We decided that we would go in every day during June, adding one minute extra in the water each day, so by the 30th of June, we were swimming (treading water) for 30 minutes. If you’re not a con dent swimmer, you don’t have to go in through the waves - more often than not we went in at the ‘wee beach’ in Portrush harbour which is more sheltered. If the weather is bad, just give it a miss that day. Probably the biggest obstacle to getting into the water is the thought of the cold, so do what you can to keep yourself warm – wear a wetsuit and a hat to keep your head warm, take a bottle of hot water to pour on your hands and feet when you get out. There’s now a huge community of dipping clubs and sea swimming groups that you can join because going in on your own isn’t as fun and it’s always safer to go with a group.
Just get started. You don’t need all the gear to have an idea – mostly you’ll need a swimming costume and a towel to get going, the clubs/ providers will be able to lend you the rest if it’s needed. Build up your confidence – start with short sessions or in a group with like-minded people and build up your time and experience. It gets easier! Drag a friend with you if you can – the more the merrier. A good friend will listen to your experiences, a best friend will share them with you – even if it does involve the occasional “why am I doing this?” There are taster events for lots of different watersports activities happening all over Northern Ireland throughout the summer! Better still, they’re being offered for free or at a reduced rate and are a great way to try something new – particularly as we come out of over a year and a half of being extremely limited in our activities. For a full listing of events, head to www.getwetni.com to see what is on offer near you.