Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Silver fox in Speedos

I’d just like to take a moment to draw attention to a silver fox who likes to swim in -1°C waters with an outside temperature of -37°C and wind at 40 knots. In Speedos. Sensible, right?

If you know me or have read my blog before, you might be aware of the fact that I am proudly from South Devon. I was fan-girling all over Lewis William Gordon Pugh before I read that he was born and lived the first 10 years of his life just 10 miles from where I grew up. “Well I‘m not surprised”, I thought.

Last week I attended a good friend’s wedding at Mount Folly Farm, overlooking Bigbury Bay in South Devon. Surrounded by home pals who, like me, now live further afield, I asked a couple of them if they identify with Devon in the same way that I do; an identification akin to being an ambassador for the county, which has become a stronger feeling since moving away. The response I received was a resounding "YES!"

When I asked why, I was told “It’s clearly because we’ve had a totally awesome upbringing - superior to others who grew up anywhere else in England or indeed in many parts of the world - in the middle of the countryside with plenty of country and oceanic activities at our disposal”.

There is indeed ‘moor to sea’ in our beloved Devon and it seems that the sea has had a particularly profound impact on Pugh.

Years ago, he set out to capture the imagination of world leaders (no easy feat), in the same way that the oceans have captured his. His aim in swimming in extreme environments - the thought of which would make most people dive under their duvet - is to raise awareness of the plight of particular areas of ocean that are threatened by pollution, climate change and overfishing. His most recent Speedos-cap-and-goggles expedition highlights the urgent need to certify the Ross Sea in Antarctica as a Marine Protected Area. He has also swam the North Pole and across a large Himalayan lake, among other adventures.

The geography geek in me has a tremendous admiration for most explorers who go to extremes to raise awareness of environmental issues, but particularly this one, not only because he has succeeded in doing so, but because he is not stopping his work to influence positive political and systemic change, all with the oceans in mind. Also because he is a clever clogs (Cambridge law graduate), an articulate speaker and has a unique ability to harness the power of the images, videos and articles that his swim campaigns produce, to tell a very important story. And he’s originally from Devon, obvs.

A picture paints a thousand words.

A brief (additional) note on Devon awesomeness. Yes, we are #smug, yet I wouldn’t consider it a snobbiness that is class nor wealth affiliated. We feel very lucky. Indeed, anyone who lives in Devon or visits Devon’s natural charms can experience the breath of fresh air that frolicking in its waves and trekking across its rolling hills provides. I believe it is this closeness to nature, developed through spending time in 'the great outdoors' beyond Devon too, that leads many who are Devonshire born and bred to spend their time promoting the protection of our most vulnerable planetary environments.

Everyone likes to look at pictures of beautiful people in stunning scenery. Everyone likes to hear tales of trial and tribulation (from the comfort of an armchair/bed/hammock - delete as appropriate) faced by crazy, courageous humans who have seen and done things we will highly unlikely see and do ourselves.

So Pugh, I applaud your brave efforts thus far and will continue to follow your future risk-filled and exciting endeavours with great pleasure.


…PS If you feel even slightly inspired by Pugh's actions, perhaps you'd like to get involved as Pugh himself suggests here.

You can also take a beginners lesson in Wild Swimming by checking out one or two of Daniel Start’s books