The Pledge

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by Adam Murie

That day was so cold I wore tracky-daks under my jeans while promenading along the boardwalk of St Kilda beach in winter. There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing but this day was proving otherwise because I was appropriately dressed and it was still freezing. The foreshore was empty apart from a few dog walkers and one or two tourists, all dressed in a similar rugged-up fashion. Up ahead, out the front of the St Kilda Sea Baths, I saw some unhinged people, clearly deranged, the type to be avoided. I maintained a safe distance and observed them, trying not to let them see me. They came out of a door with very little clothing on, ran across the sand, squealed as they splashed around in the sea then walked back to the door.

It seemed like odd behaviour, especially the walk back up the sand in the harsh wind. I would be running. But at the same time, this is St Kilda and I wanted to be a part of it. I made a pledge to myself, then and there, that I would give it a go.

That was years ago.

Winter has commenced and today I have arrived at the reception of Australia’s only indoor heated sea-water pool. The staff are all beautiful and I half expect to be turned away for looking too dishevelled, certainly I am stung when they tell me the price: $13; for a swim! I am a little ‘price-sensitive’ (a tight-ass) but there are no cheaper options so I hand over my hard earned cash and enter. Unlike other indoor public swimming pools, I am not slapped in the face by the overpowering stench of chlorine. There is, maybe a hint in the air but the atmosphere is altogether different. I awkwardly change on a floor covered in water, curse the cost of the two dollar lockers, shower then jump into the spa. At first it feels quite hot but after being in there for a minute I find the temperature perfect. There are big windows that overlook the beach and I can watch people just like me: locals and tourists promenading, generally unaware of what goes on in here. Some come up to the windows and rub the glass to see what’s happening but the condensation is on the inside, so they don’t get much of a view. I consider going over to rub a little window for them to see through but they walk away before that thought becomes an action.

It’s a huge spa, full of diversity; I can spot a Saints AFL player and hear a multitude of languages: Mandarin, Russian, Magyar, Hrvatski but it is a Lithuanian couple closest to me and they switch to English when I exclaim “How good is this?” I’m lucky because they are seasoned sea bath visitors and they tell me that sea water is pumped up out of Port Philip, filtered by sand filtration tanks and heated. Their opinion is that the swimming pool is a little too hot for doing laps but the spa, which is hotter, is just perfect for doing nothing.

After fifteen minutes I’m really hot and I tell them about my pledge. They explain that my pledge will only be achieved if my head goes under the sea; that splashing around doesn’t count. Over at the side of the windows is a door that leads out onto the beach. As I step through an icy sea wind hits my wet, semi-naked body and every instinct tells me to return to the spa. We run across the sand as drops of rain pepper us with tiny dots of cold. It’s bad now but I know it’s going to be worse on the way back up the beach. For my entry into the water I use powerful mind techniques. Have you ever seen a dog arrive at the beach? That is how you enter the water. No hesitation. In fact, you need to approach the water like there is nothing that you want more than to be in there.

I’m in the water up to my knees, splashing around like a drug-crazed clubber as the beat drops and the ecstasy kicks in, just for a few seconds then I make my way back to the sand. The Lithuanians remind me that “It’s not a real swim if your head doesn’t go under.” So I wade out deeper and dive all the way under, holding myself there as long as possible then running, with great urgency, to the shore. My plan is to sprint up the beach back to the spa but I pause to debrief with the Lithuanians. I can feel the wind on my skin and an amazing thing has happened. I’m expecting to shiver and complain but my body core temperature is high and my skin surface temperature is low and this has the effect of making me feel really comfortable. I stand for a time on the beach just chatting, enjoying the rain and the fact that I feel out of place but perfectly warm. When I return to the spa it’s like a hot bath and I need to get in slowly, my whole body is tingling. I soak and wonder what should be my next St Kilda pledge.

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