9th April 2020

Featured / Outdoors / Vivienne Rickman

What Draws Us to The Water: An Original Interview with Some Good Ideas

24 7 mins 4

Viv is an artist, educator and outdoor swimmer who has lived in the mountains of Snowdonia for 15 years. Her project #swimsnowdonia was listed amongst 'The 10 most inspiring adventures' in The Guardian and has been the focus of several short films including a music video for the band Elbow. Her film 'Afterglow' won Best Woman in Adventure Gold Award at Sheffield Adventure Film Festival.

Some Good Ideas: What draws you to the water?

Vivienne Rickman: This is a tough one to describe… it’s like an absolute need. Something that has gone beyond a craving, that’s not satisfied by a few laps of the local swimming baths but can be easily rectified by a brief dip in a freezing flooded forest stream. It’s comfort, in a way that it feels natural and intuitive. Kicking back in the middle of a mountain lake all alone is where I feel at home, so you could say it’s my sanctuary, my space. It’s definitely where I shut out all the buzzing gadgets, the to-do lists, keys and all the other baggage I lug around. I am drawn to the time in the water where it is just me, focusing on my breathing, my stroke, staring down at the abyss of nothingness below me.

SGI: Do you prefer to swim alone?

VR: I do, but that’s not to say I don’t enjoy swimming with friends and other people too. It’s just a different experience. One is almost meditative, where I focus on my breathing, my stroke, and getting everything aligned so it feels effortless. The other is joyous; full of laughter and shared conversations, where we vent about the day and destress about this, that and the other. I like both but if I am going to have my moment of Zen, then I prefer to be alone.

SGI: Aside from yourself of course, do you have any necessary items that you bring to swim?

VR: I love swimming for the fact that you really do only need yourself, but I guess where you are swimming and at what time of year depends on what you might need to take. If I am up in the mountains then, of course, I will take plenty of warm clothes, lots of layers and always a flask of a hot drink, I am a big fan of homemade soup (swede and apple is my favourite) or I take coffee. A Robie Robe -a giant towelling robe- is invaluable for getting changed where you may have spectators, as well as keeping the wind off icy skin. I am rarely without my goggles either, as I do like to look beneath the surface and of course, I always have a camera of some sort with me.

SGI: How has your wild swimming evolved?

VR: I returned to swimming as an adult after spending my childhood an avid swimmer. My Mum was a keen swimmer and she made sure I was at the swimming club five nights a week. After competing in a few events, I found my creativity snuck in and I was more interested in how I could expand that than swimming endless front crawl as fast as possible. Over the years my creative work has taken me on a journey that I never imagined. And with it my knowledge of the mountains, and interest in the movement of water has expanded to feed my work. Whilst I have no interest at all in measuring distances, times and temperatures, I am obsessed with better stroke technique and how it makes me feel stronger and more at ease in the water. Recently retraining as both a swimming teacher and open water coach it’s been amazing to share how this can feel with other people.

SGI: How does swimming inspire you and create ideas for you?

VR: I use the water in three different ways; to feed my creativity, to be creative and share this creativity with others. All are interlinked and enable the other to happen. I feel lucky that this is how I earn a living. Swimming feeds my creativity by giving me time and space away from the distractions that life brings. This is where I strive for the moments of Zen I mentioned earlier, it’s where my mind is clear and I find I am open to new ideas. It is where I create new photographic ideas and written work. I am predominantly interested in the human form and how water seems to give an overwhelming sense of liberation, particularly for women. There is anonymity below the surface, it’s a space where we are all graceful movers, all equal, gently moving through the nothingness. It’s also a time to face fears, challenge ideas, delve into our consciousness and question our decisions. I share this inspiration with others through my creative and skills-based swimming sessions. Sometimes we write, sometimes people draw, take photographs or record sounds. The skill based sessions area focused on hard skills in the mountains such as safety, decision making and coaching techniques for wild swimming.

SGI: Do different waters evoke different emotions?

VR: For me, completely. There is nothing quite like a peaty dark Scottish Loch to send my stomach churning in nervous anticipation. Although watching the rusty hued light on your skin fall away into darkness is just sublime, it can take summoning up every brave bone in my body to take those first steps in. Equally, nothing makes me smile more than swimming in a crystal clear mountain lake, so blue it feels slightly haunting, yet precious, something to be kept treasured.

SGI: What would you say to a person wanting to start wild swimming?

VR: Wetsuit, swimsuit, birthday suit, who cares what you wear? Just go and do it and do it for the sheer joy it brings you and no one else. But, please always check the weather. Rainfall and snowmelt have a huge effect on the flow and temperature as will the wind. And despite my love of swimming alone, always go with someone else, even if they sit on the bank.

I feel lucky that this is how I earn a living. Swimming feeds my creativity by giving me time and space away from the distractions that life brings.

Vivienne Rickman

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Viv is an artist, educator and outdoor swimmer who has lived in the mountains of Snowdonia for 15 years. Her project #swimsnowdonia was listed amongst 'The 10 most inspiring adventures' in The Guardian and has been the focus of several short films including a music video for the band Elbow. Her film 'Afterglow' won Best Woman in Adventure Gold Award at Sheffield Adventure Film Festival.

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