By Rebecca Hannant
Withernsea Mermaids have celebrated their first anniversary with a barbecue and a confidence-boosting dip in the sea.
Following a brief stint with Hornsea Mermaids, keen swimmer Carolyn Waudby (aka Martha Moses) set up the Withernsea Mermaids, a group of women who get together and swim in the sea to help build confidence, socialise and make friends.
Although she had planned to launch a swimming group in the town two years previously, she finally set it up after noticing the number of women wanting to join a local group.
The group, which was set up in August 2021, now has more than 130 members, and celebrated its first anniversary on Tuesday, August 2.
Carolyn used to be a keen runner before a condition affecting her legs left her unable to do high-impact sports she discovered that open-water swimming provided the perfect low-impact activity, and this inspired her to set up the Withernsea Mermaids. A year on, the group is aimed at people of all abilities, with the sea being a “huge open resource”.
Carolyn said: “Nobody can tell that you are disabled in the water as you are just the same as everybody else.”
The popularity of open-water swimming has continued to grow along the coast with many women joining mermaid groups to gain confidence away from conventional sports activity venues such as gyms and swimming pools.
She added: “In the water all we can see is your neck up. We’re not interested in what shape you are. We wear big towel ponchos when we come out, which are shapeless, and big coats in the winter. Body confidence and body positivity are just a side product.”
Another benefit of the group is the social aspect, with many members forming lasting friendships.
Melanie Dyer, a member of the Withernsea Mermaids, said: “I moved here because I wanted to be near the sea. I am not a particularly strong swimmer, but I have always swum in places like Bridlington. As a kid I always loved going in the sea. The Mermaids mean I don’t have to swim alone – I don’t have to wait for someone.
“It’s not about performance, either – you don’t have to be a strong swimmer. Neither do we compete for who can stay in the water. It’s about everyone’s needs.”
Carolyn added: “It’s nice to get people down, and people stop and talk to you when you’re swimming. They usually shout, ‘Ooh, you’re brave. You wouldn’t get me in there!’ I always think, ‘You’re mad, you’re walking along the seafront and you’re not even coming for a swim.’”
Although the physical aspects of swimming in the sea are really no different from swimming in a pool, the added experience of being outdoors is a “real privilege”, according to Carolyn.
She added: “We have had a young gull. I am not particularly keen on them because they can nick your chips, but one came down curious about what we were doing. It did an aerial display above us, showing off. That is a real privilege as it isn’t something you see every day. It’s no comparison to swimming in a pool.”
The Mermaids currently announce their swims via their Facebook group, Withernsea Mermaids and Friends. Anyone wishing to organise their own swims can announce the date, time and location on the page and ask other swimmers to join them.
Carolyn is also looking to help people boost their confidence in open-water swimming after undergoing recent coaching training. To find out more, email her at [email protected]