Porthcawl ‘persuades’ Lewis to tackle a a marathon charity swimming challenge

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

– Local People

by Philip IrwinGEM Reporter

Porthcawl resident Lewis Brown has just completed a gruelling (and very cold) swimming challenge – taking to the water for 100 consecutive days – with no wetsuit.

He has been so determined to never miss a day that, even when he and wife Jade went to London, he swam once in the Serpentine in Hyde Park, and once in a London Dock.

According to the The GEM’s beekeeping correspondent, Harold Williams, this has been a warm winter, as far as his bees are concerned, but thanks to the regular cold winds blowing in off the Bristol Channel, Lewis would beg to differ. In Porthcawl, wind chill factor means just that!

Over the 100 days, he has taken to the water at Porthcawl harbour (when the tide was in) and at Rest Bay when the tide was out.

However, he drew inspiration from the experienced open water swimmers that he met in Porthcawl, and he told The GEM that their help and encouragement had been crucial.

Lewis and his wife Jade grew up in Devon, and Lewis was a lifeguard at a local pool in his teens. However, his real enthusiasm was for the sea, and he went on to study oceanography in university.

Jade gained a place at Cardiff Medical School so, after he gained his degree, the couple lived in Cardiff. While Jade continued her medical training, Lewis started work for the National Maritime Aquarium as an outreach officer for south Wales. A fair chunk of his work is visiting schools and talking about the marine environment. In recent years, this has meant talking a lot about plastic!

By now, Lewis was getting more and more keen on open water swimming – particularly in the sea. That was difficult from Cardiff, as it meant driving to Barry, so Porthcawl beckoned.

What’s more, Lewis’ work with the National Maritime Aquarium led to a tie-in with Seaquest, which is the educational arm of the Porthcawl Harbourside development. He has occasional use of Seaquest’s office in Porthcawl and, presumably, will develop these links further when the Porthcawl Maritime Centre is completed, as Seaquest will be part of that centre.

On arriving in Porthcawl, Lewis made contact with the established group of sea swimmers and took his first dip (clad in a wetsuit) in February 2018.

He said: “It was so cold it absolutely took my breath away, and I couldn’t believe that the Porthcawl people were doing it in just ordinary swimming costume. Regulars like Tom Chapman and Ros Edmonds gave me so much encouragement.”

A period of acclimatisation followed and, as the summer rolled on, he discarded his wetsuit and determined that, anything they could do, he could do too.

The regulars have a club called ‘Swimtastic’ and keep in touch by mobile phone, checking who wants to swim when and where. Over the summer, they showed Lewis how to plan longer swims safely, going, for instance, from Rest Bay to Ogmore.

The swimmers tend to liaise with the NCI Coastwatch volunteers who are based in the tower near Porthcawl harbour and who keep a watchful eye on the swimmers.

As the summer wore on, Lewis decided to do the 100-day challenge, in aid of a charity that is already supported by the National Open Water Swimming Association. The charity, ‘Level Water’ helps disabled children learn to swim, and then aims to move them on to continue lessons with mainstream classes.

Back in his pool lifeguard days, Lewis gave swimming lessons and remembers how important they were to disabled children, so Level Water was an obvious choice.

He has passed his target of £1,000, but GEM readers can still donate, on https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/lewis-ocean-explorer

Lewis had great support from the Porthcawl swimmers through the 100 days, and it all finished on Saturday, January 26. He and Jade, both keen runners, ran the Porthcawl Park Run, which was depleted by strong winds and heavy rain, but for Lewis that was the easy part.

The tide was in so he and four others, Colin Hughes, Tom Chapman, Ros Edmonds and Peter Shanley, made their way down the slipway and headed out into the bay. Lewis added that Porthcawl has many tricky currents, but staying in the centre of the bay close to the harbour is pretty straightforward. Nevertheless, anyone contemplating trying sea swimming should take advice from the many knowledgable swimmers in Porthcawl.

Lewis wrote a blog throughout the challenge and in that he said: “The ocean is my playground and through loving it, I have learnt more about it and care about ensuring the health of it in the future.

“Through this challenge I want people to engage with the ocean, take on their own ocean adventure and learn to love it, so that in the future they care about protecting it. Whether you have disabilities or not, all should be able to enjoy the water!”

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