DANIELA EXLEY

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‘Sea Swimmers, December 2020’, is a series of photographs of the swimmers of Hastings and St Leonards marking the end of a most challenging year on a positive note of joy, community and connection.

I’d always swam in the sea in the summer months, but after learning about Wim Hoff’s cold water therapy, I started swimming in the sea in early March 2020 just before all the ‘madness’ of the world started, just before the first lockdown here in the UK.

My favourite analogy of 2020 is that we were all thrown into the same big ol’ storm, but we were definitely not all in the same boat. My boat, while safe in many ways, saw me stripped of the things I had associated with who I was - my photography commissions, the retreats and workshops I was facilitating and the freedom to travel.

As the uncertainty continued in the wider spectrum of life, for me, the sea was the antidote. Immersing myself into the freezing cold sea would break the cycle of negativity and make me feel alive! My skin tingling and burning, my attention only on my breath, present in the moment, connected to the natural world and my fellow swimmers, fears became irrelevant - enjoying every moment of life here on Earth is what became most important.

Sea swimming offered me the chance to go out of the house for my ‘daily exercise’, a chance to meet friends, to see smily faces when all others were covered by a mask. Pre or post swims, lockdowns or not, we sat and basked in the sunlight with hot cups of tea, getting a good dose of vitamin D, vitamin Sea and laughter. It gave me a sense of achievement in a world which seemed to have stopped, and a sense of exhilaration, utter joy, of gratitude and of belonging.

During a time of physical separation and division of opinions, the sea brought us together, connecting us to each other and to nature, a connection I will be ever grateful for.

A huge thank you to all the Hastings and St Leonards swimmers for their participation and camaraderie!’


Daniela Exley is a photographer living in Hastings. She graduated from Brighton University in 2003 and has worked commercially, editorially and on personal projects ever since. The element of water is a running theme not only in this series but in her ongoing project ‘SPA - sano per aqua'. You can see more examples of her work at danielaexley@gmail.com