Helen Walne, underwater-er

Helen Walne, a writer, editor and ‘obsessive underwater-er’, shares her blue-green route.

‘I swim in the ocean off Cape Town pretty much every day, usually with my camera jammed down my costume. These pictures were all taken in winter, when lovely mad people I know come swimming in only their cozzies.

I’ve recently got into ice swimming (almost every swim in Cape Town feels a bit like one!). To qualify as an ice swim, the water has to be less than five degrees. I’m practising for one scheduled to take place in the Matroosberg and have done a few ice baths. It’s all about the mental state: I try to be quite Zen, slow down my breathing and avoid overthinking things. Go with the, um, floe.

I’ve always loved being in water. As a kid hiking in the Berg, I’d
swim in the rivers, no matter the temperature. If there was water, I’d want to be in it: pools at parties; garden ponds; Scottish seas; lochs.

I once swam in the Beagle Channel off the tip of South America. It was freezing but so satisfying. The colder the better.

I didn’t swim properly for years until I did a few lengths at the gym and remembered how much I love it. I started pool swimming, and that became too repetitive, so I moved on to the sea. I’m pretty terrified of the ocean, so it’s been a great way to conquer a lot of fears. And the light underwater on a sunny day! It’s another world – like a magical garden. I think I only swim and float about because of that light. I reckon diving is going to be the next logical step.

What is disturbing is the amount of  plastic on our beaches and in the sea – and this is just the stuff we can see. The number of micro-particles is huge. I picked up 20 black bags of plastic off  Lagoon Beach in Cape Town recently – most of it cooldrink bottles. There really is no need for us to buy cooldrinks. All we need to do is be more organised and bring our own water.’


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