I was last in San Sebastián seven years ago and, being the height of summer, the beach was choc-a-bloc. Standing room only, almost. I was back again last week putting together a piece and set of photos for Get Lost, an Australian travel magazine.
Despite the temperatures being no higher than mid-teens there was no lack of activity along the city’s famous beach, La Concha. In the port, fishermen fixing their nets and retired fishermen, like Miguel and Inocencio, both in their 80s, who were drawn down to the water’s edge in much the same way as they had been most days over the past seven decades.
Along came Felix, back from a canoe trip. The first thing he did after disembarking was jump in the water. “It’s phenomenal,” he said, “but chilly”. Felix was fully wet-suited up but back on the beach I found Ovidio, marching out of the surf. He was just in his bathers. He told me that he swam every day, despite the sea temperature being around 10C.
I’ve just read the late Roger Deakin’s, Waterlog. It’s a wonderful story of eccentric swimming around Britain’s seas, lakes and bogs. Deakin believed the cold water swimming had both mental and physiological health benefits.
So I thought I’d have a go. Due to the shallow slope of the beach, by the time I was knee deep I’d already lost the feeling in my feet. I dived in and came up arms flailing before settling down in some sort of stroke for 10 minutes. I felt the cramp in my foot just as I was wading back up the beach. But, oh, what a sensory experience. And with the added bonus of there being plenty of space on the sand to recover afterwards.