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Women of The Sea

As part of our celebration of the ocean this month we’ve been inspired by the Ama Women of Japan, free diving fisherwomen who walk along the seabed for up to two minutes collecting and harvesting sea vegetables. In honour of the Ama, we’ve collected stories of women on our little island.

Katie Atherton is based in Cullercoates and swims, SUP’s and surfs almost everyday. 

Cullercoats SUP

As I am sitting down to write this it’s World Oceans Day. The theme this year is “Life and Livelihoods” and I couldn’t relate more. The ocean has totally transformed my life. I was born inland, very much a ‘townie’ when I moved to the North East. I don’t know if my draw to the sea was ignited by something innate, or a complete ‘fluke’. My parents will attest to digging a hole and plonking me in it on beach holidays, and would soon find me army crawling to the sea.

I came to the coast for it’s music scene and friends who I’d meet for breakfast every Friday without fail (and still do!); I moved here for the sea - to store my boards steps away from the beach. I would have loved to have learned to surf as a Grom, but I came to it late. I’m just glad I found it.

I don’t have roots here, but somehow, this place to me is like putting on an old shoe and now I am establishing my own. I leave my house and bump into friendly, familiar faces along the promenade or in our local cafés; likeminded, creative people - another perk of coastal living - an experience a visiting friend compared to “a Geordie version of ‘Home and Away’” (In Geordie, we would call it ‘Hyem n’Owa there’). I learned to surf and SUP, soon becoming a ‘Sister of the North Sea’ the name of our growing female surf community. Showing others, particularly women, that surfing isn’t intimidating nor a “male-dominated”, macho watersport as it once was - despite how it’s marketed at/with women. It is not glamorous and we are covered in 5mm neoprene year-round (no surfing in bikinis here!). It’s not about being the best surfer, but just getting in the sea and giving something a go, celebrating our failures as it means we get back on the board and try again.

Women of the sea

I love to ‘share the stoke’. I advocate getting those who have never tried surfing/paddlesports/cold water swimming before, or be too intimidated to, into the water. I champion positive coastal living in my community, have an interest in ensuring Sea Safety and environmental literacy become the ‘norm’ for our little fishing village. I cofounded a new sport (SUPball UK), putting our area on the map as a destination for watersports in its own right. I deliver Surf Therapy to young people to combine the therapeutic benefits of the ocean and the 'mindfulness' and adventure of surfing, promoting positive social groups.

I share all these real-life experiences/shenanigans on my social media spaces, taken back by how many have now given the sea a go when they may previously have never considered getting their face wet. Especially the cold water of the North Sea, we are hard as nails. I don’t post for anything other than my own
memories - it has also brought me a lot of opportunities (like being asked to write this article!). So, come and jump into the North Sea with me. The water’s fine.

Follow Katie on Instagram here

Jennie Cook is from the highlands of Scotland and completed forty wild swims before turning 40.

Wild Swimming

I grew up summer swimming in the rivers and lochs near our house in the Highlands, never happier on a sunny day than when I was in the water. And as I got older I kept those summer swims going even though I lived in the city -  any time it was warm-ish and I was near somewhere good to swim I'd get straight in. But, despite all that, it took a pandemic and a few months stuck in the city to make me realise that swimming outside was something I wanted to do all year long and as soon as we were able to venture further than our front doors I was back in the water as often as possible. 2020 was also the year I turned 40 on Christmas Eve, my big plan to avoid the feelings of impending doom and existential crisis coming with a big birthday had been to have a giant party and force all my friends to celebrate my face -  but since that wasn't on the cards I decided to mark it in a different way and do 40 swims in the lead up. Obviously in a normal year that would be a breeze but because we'd been stuck mostly indoors for the first half of the year it meant going several times a week as the weather got colder. What I didn't expect was for the pleasure to go up as the temperature went down, I loved it, that cold water high was like nothing else and being able to wade into water in my swim suit while snow fell around me felt like a super power. Since I wasn't demanding birthday face celebration from all my pals I decided to demand cold hard cash instead and do something good for charity. So I set up a page and raised money for our local foodbank. I couldn't believe how generous everyone was and we ended up making nearly a grand in the end. I did the 40th swim with my sister on a beautiful sunny but freezing Christmas eve while wearing ridiculous head gear and, while it wasn't the party I wanted, it was a pretty amazing way to turn 40.

You can support Jennie's Just Giving page here

Laura Young from Scotland is on a mission to not just recycle waste, but produce as little waste as possible

Less Waste Laura

My real journey with environmentalism began on a beach. A new years day walk along a polluted beach which made me realise we had trashed the planet and I had to do something, play my part to change that. That’s when I began thinking about being more sustainable, try to live without plastic and embark on a journey to less waste. But the beach, and the ocean, is where I renew my love for the planet and continue with many others around the world to act for change. Whether it's a sunset walk, scuba dive somewhere warm, or just a paddle in the cold seas of Scotland, this beautiful blue planet we have is worth saving. Our coastlines are the last defence before the open ocean, and so that why litter picking them, and pushing for changing in coastal communities is so important. I regularly join others to keep these spaces clean, and protect all of our wonderful marine wildlife from our detrimental impacts. There is nothing better than looking back and knowing that because of the actions of a few people, you’ve made a difference and made our world a cleaner, and safer place for all. 

Follow Laura on Instagram here

Grace Boucher is growing up on Anglesey and shows huge promise as a surf and outdoor photographer. She surfs with her father, Andy. 

Anglesey women surfers

Growing up on Anglesey pretty much means that in some way or another you'll end up spending the majority of your time in, or at least around the sea. For me this was through surfing. My dad, who has been coming to Wales to surf for the past 30 years, has always encouraged my sister and I to get in the water whenever possible. I think my favourite thing about surfing is the travel involved, because of surfing I have found myself in Sri-Lanka, Portugal, France and many other brilliant countries.

The first memories of surfing for me were times when a large group of my family and friends would venture down to the local beaches and paddle out on huge foam boards and try not to get blown away by the classic Wales windy days.

Through surfing I have met some of the kindest and most fun people I will probably ever meet. At the age of 8 I joined a swimming club because my parents wanted to be sure that I would be safe when surfing. In swimming I found my greatest passion and I became a talented and dedicated competitive swimmer. I actually only became interested in surf photography around a year ago when, through my dad, I met a small group of surfers who I now consider good friends. I found that I no longer wanted to be in the water, instead I wanted to capture the brilliant smiles of my friends whenever they caught a wave.

I have found that it is not only me that enjoys having images of these moments, surfers really do enjoy looking at themselves and parading the photos I have taken of them all over their Instagram. I’ve always found the rush of “did you get any photos of me?” messages I receive after a session quite comical and sorting through an SD card of great shots has always been very rewarding.

The local surfing community will always be somewhere I can go to to relax and laugh with people who I hope will be my life long friends.

Follow Grace on Instagram here