In its 54th year, the Porthcawl Christmas Morning Swim is expected to attract more participants than ever. Having raised over £100,000 for charity over the years, with thousands turning up to the event each year, the festive dip as got a lot to live up to. We spoke to Lucy Jones, secretary of the Bridgend Christmas Swim Committee, to find out what it takes to host the UK's largest Christmas Day Swim.
How did the event first come about?
It all started with Arlon Owen in 1965, who owned a little Porthcawl cafe and swam in the sea each day. Every year he'd hand out sweets to those who came along and people gradually joined in. Arlon's daughter and grandson are still on the committee today so it's a real family event. As more and more people began coming along to swim, supporting it and raising money for charity, word of mouth got around. It just got bigger and bigger.
Vic Davies and Arlon Owens in the water. Photo from the Christmas Swim Archives.
When did you first get involved with the swim?
My earliest memory of the event was when I was 8. Every Christmas morning we'd open our Christmas presents and do a parade around the town. We'd go around singing carols, collecting money for charity and then some of us would go in the sea. We'd all be in fancy dress and afterwards we'd meet in Arlon Owen's cafe,Sospan fach.
You're now the secretary of the Christmas swim event. What made you get more involved?
My mum did the role I do now for 30 years. She was even promoted to Mother Christmas! I volunteered for the role because if people don't step forward the event will stop and that would be such a shame. I haven't got my costume sorted yet though - I've been very disorganised this year!
What do you think makes Porthcawl attract so many people to the event year on year?
We've obviously got spectacular beaches for it. From swimming to surfing, the sea plays a huge role in the lives of people throughout Porthcawl. The passion of the people in the town is what makes the event continue year on year. You see so many people you know, it's a wonderful community atmosphere.
Do you get many people come from outside the area?
Lots of people come from outside of Porthcawl and we do get the odd overseas person or others from around the country. I've even got friends from Australia and Dubai coming along this Christmas!
What can we expect at the event this year?
Last year 1,200 people turned up and took part, but we don't know how many we'll get this year. The tide will be halfway down the beach so it won't be a long run to the sea but there will be enough beach to work with. Our headline charity is Prostate Cymru and the fancy dress theme is superheroes. There will be various local charities getting involved as well - last year we raised a whopping total of £11,000 so we're hoping to top it!
How would you describe the atmosphere of the day?
The atmosphere on the day is fantastic. People will have moved away from the area and will return for the swim - it might be the only time you see them that year. As you run down the beach your feet get so cold, that for the split second you enter the water your feet feel warm - they were so cold walking down the beach! It's only then later that your body works out it's actually freezing. In some bizarre way it's totally satisfying.
What would you recommend those visiting the area do after the swim?
Warm up quickly! As they run up the beach there will be a tot of whisky to help them warm up. There are also changing facilities available in the hi tide so everything can be safely stored. Then go home and enjoy a traditional Christmas at home with the family!
Will the lifeguards be there?
We're massively supported by the RNLI, who will be launching the lifeboat with a full crew for the event. The beach will also be fully lifeguarded to ensure everything goes smoothly.
Lastly, how can people sign up to get involved? Can they raise money for charity?
You can register on our Facebook page or via our website in advance. You can also just turn up on the day to register. Registration on the day will be from 10.30am at the High Tide Inn and the swim itself is from 11.45am. Everyone who registers will even be treated to a free mug.