How Exmouth's Christmas Day Swim 2012 made quite a splash
By PGStrange | Sunday, December 30, 2012, 11:45
EXMOUTH'S Christmas Day Swim made quite a splash this year, helped by bright sunshine, calm conditions, a reasonably warm sea, big crowds and added TV exposure from Channel 4...
Making a splash: Oympic 400m sprinter Iwan Thomas heads down Exmouth beach for the traditional Christmas Day swim, followed by the Channel 4 cameras
A number of burly men were on Exmouth beach for the annual swim. They were wearing Viking horns... and very little else
Brother and sister Rio and Jake Cook - from Manchester and London respectively - were both doing the Exmouth Christmas Day swim. It was Jake's first year
Iwan Thomas, the Olympic and Commonwealth 400m sprinter and Celebrity Masterchef contestant, was on the beach to add live links to Gordon Ramsay's Christmas Cookalong show. Apart from cooking for local lifeguards at The Octagon, Iwan even dipped a toe in the water himself, wearing a pair of Cookalong Speedos!
The live TV link-up began shortly after 10am, with an introduction from Gordon Ramsay to Iwan on Exmouth beach. Surrounded by local lifeguards. Iwan explained that he was cooking for the Exmouth Beach Rescue Club who did a terrific job all year and how - at 11am - this "crazy lot" run into the sea.
Gradually this "crazy lot" began to gather. Hundreds of people - many in fancy dress - were arriving on Exmouth's seafront near The Octagon. They included Paul Wallace and neighbour Rebecca Clarkson from Exmouth. Paul had swum last year and wanted to do it again.
"It was a bit of a buzz last year," said Paul, "and I just wanted to do it again. Once you've done it once, you want to do it again."
"I'm Paul's next door neighbour," said Rebecca. "I got drunk and he made me do it!"
Steve and Max Penza from Exmouth were also there, along with Sam and Oliver Izard from Topsham.
"I didn't do it last year," said Max, "but I did it the year before. This will be Max's first year."
Sam said she did the swim last year, it was great fun and she was looking forward to it again.
Other swimmers included a number of burly men from Exmouth, wearing Viking horns... and very little else. "We're a bunch of good friends," explained Alex Ridgers. "We do the Christmas swim every year, it's a tradition, it's great fun, and everyone has a good time."
Back at The Octagon, Iwan Thomas was still at the early stages of preparing his Christmas dinner, following Gordon Ramsay's instructions. Iwan admitted he was a bit behind in his food preparation, but was hoping to catch up, aided by lifeguards including beach rescue leader Nigel Snowshall. Gordon then announced that he had a present for Iwan. This, it turned out, was a pair of Cookalong Speedos...
Iwan was underwhelmed. "Mum, who is watching, I'm very sorry about this," he said. "It's Gordon's fault I've got to wear these."
Meanwhile, back on the beach, Exmouth town crier Roger Bourgein was in the midst of the crowd, surrounded by a host of ladies dressed as angels. He was clearly enjoying the event, and helped to lead the traditional singing of "We wish you a Merry Christmas!"
And suddenly the swimmers were off, running down the beach and into the sea, a few minutes earlier than the scheduled 11am start.
The next five minutes were utter pandemonium as hundreds entered the water. Some brave souls managed to head out to the buoys and flotilla of boats off shore, but many just rushed in... splashed about and rushed out again!
Swimmers included Mark Hoole from Exmouth, along with friends Bruce and Joe. "We've always done it, we've done it for years," said Mark. "It was warmer this year. They decided to put the heating on!"
Those who dipped a toe included brother and sister Jake and Rio Cook, from London and Manchester respectively,
"This was my first time," said Jake. "We were down here last year and everyone was running in and I didn't know what was going on, and I thought well, next year I'll give it a go. By the time we got there, most people were out. It felt really good when you got out, you felt a lot warmer."
Iwan Thomas was about to find out how warm the water was. Just before he started making some blinis, Gordon Ramsay announced, "We're going to go back to Exmouth where Iwan is about to go for a dip."
Cameras followed Iwan - resplendent in his Cookalong Speedos - down to the water, where the Olympian did little more than run in... and run out again.
"He didn't even get wet!" screamed Gordon from his kitchen in London.
"But he got in!" said fellow chef Rosemary Shrager.
After that the swimmers and crowd dispersed from Exmouth beach,.leaving Iwan to continue his cooking at The Octagon.
In a later TV link, Gordon Ramsay queried why Iwan had only dipped a toe in the water.
"If I'm honest, I thought I'd gone off air by then," said Iwan, apologetically. "I thought I could blag it... and splash about!"
For more pictures of this year's Christmas Swim, go to: