12/05/2017

The Morning Swimmers

  • Faroe Islands

Director and photographer, Fred Scott, photographs the “Morning Swimmers of Sandagerði,” the women who swim in the North Atlantic Ocean every morning of the year.

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Far out in the radiant ocean glinting like quicksilver, there lies a solitary little lead-colored land. The tiny rocky shore is to the vast ocean just about the same as a grain of sand to the floor of a dance hall. But seen beneath a magnifying glass, this grain is nevertheless a whole world…

William Heinesen wrote this passage about the Faroe Islands in his novel The Lost Musicians, 1950. It is perhaps the most accurate description I’ve found of the feeling you get when you touch down there. The ocean is overwhelmingly present in every direction, a part of the experience at any point on the islands – you hear it, you smell it, you feel it everywhere. And yet you’re in the middle of a sturdy civilization, a unique and isolated universe with its own language, food, literature, and a history that goes back to the year 400. For the Faroese, the sea has always been a dominant character in their story.

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An old rite of passage for many Faroese boys was a long and arduous stint out at sea as a deckhand or a cook on a ship. An education of the sea is passed down from male to male across generations, mostly for those in the fishing and shipping industries. But you don’t need to go out to sea to understand its power and pull. This is evident in the lady swimmers that meet every morning to swim in that same unforgiving sea that generations of men have left land for.

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“We are raised by the sea, we always see the sea, it is there all around us,” says Elin Lindenskov, one of the swimmers. “We respect the sea, and so we never swim alone.”

The women call themselves the “Morning Swimmers of Sandagerði” and swim every day of the year unless a storm roughs up the water too much. The ladies range in age from 20 to 75 years old. “We do it for our well-being,” Elin says, “it gives a special feeling to ‘dip,’ as we call it, in the morning. It gives a nice chill and makes the heart pump. I used to get a shock from the water, but not so much now I am used to it.”

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The ritual is quick, starting with stretching as soon as the women arrive on the beach. They go out to swim, then back on the beach to rub down with sand, back to the water to rinse off, then they dry off, and they’re gone.

Henry Beston says in his book The Outermost House that “the three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of outer ocean on a beach. I have heard them all, and of the three elemental voices, that of ocean is the most awesome, beautiful and varied.”

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But seeing and hearing isn’t enough in the Faroe Islands – for the men who go out on ships, or Agnes Mols Mortensen who started her seaweed company TARI, or shellfish divers who stock the Faroe Islands’ world-renowned kitchens, or Eva Úr Dímun who runs the only farm and household on Stora Dímun with her family of eight, and not for the Morning Swimmers of Sandagerði, either.

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Photos by Fred Scott.
Words by Erin Spens.

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