Last week was mental health awareness week – and it was a week when Babel was busy living the reality of the power of being in the natural world to support positive mental health.
The surf therapy programme run through Blue Surf school and The Wave Project sees kids who were scared of having water splashed in their face four weeks ago, morphing into wave-confident little seal-pups.
Suffice to say, I’m loving being involved.
Part of the gratification comes from being one of team opening a door to a place which can provide life-long sanctuary. The water can become a lifeline – and not just for young people, but for adults as well.
I’m proud to run a successful business, but also that its values – transparency and connection with others – are more than year-end profit.
Talking about challenges, about our downs as well ups (which I know I can be guilty of more commonly sharing on social media ) is so important in helping us all feel less shame in having them. There’s been a lot written about the impact of ‘blue space’ on mental health, but it means more when the stories you hear are personal. So, it was easy to decide to share – and ask my friends to – stories of how the sea (in some ways) saved us and is a tool we use to maintain our mental wellness.
The last year has meant loss of certainty for so many people: for Babel it meant an immediate loss of students, of restricted freedom to travel and therefore to teach and trade.
Our team changed drastically, and whilst this is definitely for the better, let’s not pretend change is always easy, nor unemotional.
At times, the challenges of the pandemic, of home-schooling and of limited freedoms felt overwhelming. But I’ve been overwhelmed before: I’ve felt the crushing force of anxiety, unfortunately, many times in my life.
I was lucky, though. I found surfing early, and used it as a tool to survive periods of acute anxiety in my twenties – and it’s still my therapy, as much as I teach it to others. After the early chaos of the pandemic and huge changes at Babel, my mindset notably improved when I consciously sought out the sea more: when surfing became a habit again.
And it’s not about shredding; it’s not about being the best surfer – it’s about getting out there.
It doesn’t even have to be surfing – SUPing, bodyboarding, swimming – the power of the sea to calm through your movement in it, on in, through it – is immense.
Into the Cold
My friend Becks discovered cold-water swimming at the beginning of the pandemic: the same deal…it helps her find a calmer place.
“There’s a sea pool at Chapel Rock on Perranporth beach: even though I’d lived in the area for almost a decade, I’d never swum in it. I was always tied up with parenting two young boys, work, routine, life. I was just rediscovering my identity in a new job – for Babel! – and after two kids, then the pandemic plunged me back into a warped form of maternity leave. I was down and anxious – drowning, in many ways. I remember one weekend morning, I surprised myself by grabbing a swimsuit rather than my trainers. I jumped in the pool and haven’t looked back. And I know so many others – often, but not always women – who’ve been doing the same.”
Swimming: sunrise and Sunset
Amanda Charles-Jones of Newquay surf store and brand, Sunset Surf, is one such salty sister. When we spoke, she asked if she could write some words instead…and what she wrote is pretty epic – and reveals the life-changing experience it’s been for her. Not only has swimming become integral to her life, it’s also become a part of her business: her new swimsuit brand, Made of Water, is inspired by the pursuit.
People ask me why all the time why I wild swim, why I love it.
It’s hard to explain the feeling you get from swimming in cold water. It’s the adventure of finding new spots, the solace of being just you and the elements. The discipline of making yourself go in when your whole body is making excuses why you should stay in the warm. The fear of being cold: too cold. The rush as your body fits the water. The cold burning at your skin. The cold washing over you until you become comfortable in it. The feeling you could stay here forever. In that time you think of nothing else, your mind quiet. Totally free. I find now if I’m feeling low, that I just take myself to a body of water and submerge. It’s a return to what we are made of. Nature has all the answers and it’s where we are happiest.
There you go: I swim because I must.
The Sea is Free
Many of our adult learners who come to Babel for our English with Cornish Tourism programme, rather than Surf and Study course, show equal joy in being near the sea: in the spindrift, in the salty air. There’s an unexpected power in even a simple beach stroll.
Life can be tumultuous and it’s certainly not been easy of late, yet the sea clarifies things somehow. It doesn’t give you answers, but it certainly helps you ask the right questions.
The last six months of surf, sea and reflection have revealed, ever clearer, that Babel Fish is not about student numbers, but student experience.
Babel doesn’t do what other language schools do, because we’re not trying to be them. We’re just who we are and who we’ve always been.
It’s easy for that to become diluted, to get lost. But, if we ever were, we ain’t now…
…we’re right where we should be: intimately linked to the sea, to our community in Newquay – surfing and otherwise – and to Babel’s core values of people above profit and of student experience above volume sales.
And if we ever feel all at sea again, well, fittingly, our ‘grounding’, takes us back there.
Please connect with projects like The Wave Project or swimming societies like The Bluetit Swimmers, if you or anyone you know might benefit from some sea-space. And hit us up for your EFL / surfing needs.