Yvonne Luna is the owner of Swimming in Art, a gallery and creative space right down on the beach. She moved to Kemptown 13 years ago. A photographer and passionate sea swimmer, one of her images won a competition in The Guardian in 2012. She opened Swimming in Art in March 2017.
Yvonne pictured with fellow sea swimmer Nick Sayers (photo courtesy of Clive Andrews)
“I am evangelical about swimming – and my background is in the arts. So ‘Swimming in Art’ has a double meaning – a lot of my photos are about swimming and I also have a lot of swimming ephemera to create the atmosphere. With my photography, I have been lucky as I have had the advice of brilliant professionals locally, like Kevin Meredith and J.J. Waller.
As well as the imagery and other items for sale, I also put on performances and workshops. Depending on the event, we can fit in up to 20 people. Children are welcome to many events – there’s a fairy light den area where they can come along and read Beano comics or do puzzles. I also have wheelchair access. Events I have put on so far have ranged from pretty laid back poetry sharing sessions, to more formal ticketed events such as solo violin concerts and a writing course with a best-selling author. I’m currently taking bookings for the Brighton Festival, including a comedy night and a motivational talk. I want to make the space as eclectic as possible so there’s something for everyone. My only criteria is that anything I put on here is the best in its field.
I grew up in Hove and had always swum in the summer, but never through the winter. Then several years ago I met up with a friend who I hadn’t seen for ages — and I thought she looked just amazing. She said that her secret was that she swam all the year round in Lake Geneva. The trick, she said, was to join a swimming club. She suggested that I see if there might be one in Brighton, because having the support of other people would help to get me through the winter. So I became part of Brighton Swimming Club. I only intended to do it for one winter, but by then I had completely fallen in love with the characters in the club. I realised that the Swimming Club wasn’t just about swimming – it was also about things like Swishing, which is swimming while you’re fishing, which we do every summer. We also snorkel under The Pier every summer to see what we can find.
Yvonne’s photograph, ‘Snowy Swimmer by the West Pier’, also featuring Nick Sayers, won a 2012 Guardian Photo Competition. (Image © Yvonne Luna). Prints are available to buy at Swimming in Art.
Swimming in winter really helped me with the winter blues, which I used to get quite badly. Going in every morning at seven o’clock is just like having this huge endorphin rush. It keeps you going until the next morning – then you go and do it again. So I became addicted and now if I miss more than a day, I really do notice it
When you join the Swimming Club you get your own fob, which enables you to access the club and its changing room any time you want, but being social creatures many of us go in as a group. Seven in the morning is the most popular one because it sets you up for the day and of course many people are going off to work. Some people swim in the evening, but for me it’s more to do with waking up. At seven, you have the beach completely to yourself and can see the sun rise. Brighton is a different animal at that time of day. I don’t have breakfast until afterwards. In summer I go swimming several times a day.
I have never used a wet suit for swimming, (though I do for swishing), but some people do. I remember one girl wore a wetsuit in her first year – but then realised she was missing something because the rest of us were getting so high and laughing after our swims but she wasn’t getting the same rush from the cold. The acclimatisation thing is important and I do try to go in every day. We reckon the longest you can not do it for is a week. There are some people who only go in once a week and they are all right. But after two weeks away you would feel it.
There is definitely a spiritual benefit to it. And I suppose I am quite spiritual in my own way. I actually have a little ritual I do every morning, a bit like a Sun Salutation in yoga. I face towards the sun – or wherever it should be, if it were out – and then I say ‘Love and Light’ and do a backwards flip. I do that three times.
My favourite conditions are rough, but safe. Not so rough that it’s actually dangerous, but with waves, and a bit of sun. Of course usually if it’s rough, it’s grey as well – but every now and then you do get a rough sea at the same time as some sunshine and the feeling of the waves – and the sight of the spray going up into the sunlight is really magical. If it’s really rough we wouldn’t go out. You do have to be careful if there is a strong current. But at the Swimming Club you do learn how to test the waters and to understand the tides.
Because so much of my life revolves around swimming, my primary reason for living in Kemptown is that it’s near the Swimming Club. And I do like the fact that if you go quite a long way along the beach below Kemptown, you find quite a lot of lovely wild flowers near the Volks Railway line. The last beach, the one near Black Rock, is a great place to find driftwood. And there’s a lot of interesting wildlife which I have only seen here. There are Turnstones – very small seabirds – which live under the Pier. From my own dives under the Pier I have come across old coins which have become embedded into the Rock.
I can’t even remember when I last went away anywhere on holiday. Living here you don’t really feel you need to. There’s always so much free or very cheap entertainment going on in the summer. For example, one of my favourite films is Quadrophenia and one of my highlights was watching it at one of the open air screenings, right here on the beach, where a lot of it was actually filmed.
Brighton also always somehow looks different – I swim in the sea every day, but every morning, every day, every sunrise is different. The people of Brighton are definitely different as well. You can be yourself and express yourself here, I think, much more than some other places I have lived, like London. I am incredibly proud of Brighton and also feel lucky to live in a place which I think is the best place in England.”
Swimming in Art is next to the Sea Life beach tunnel at Unit 7, Brighton Palace Pier Beach (East), Lower Promenade, Madeira Drive, BN21ET. For details of what’s on, contact Swimming in Art on 01273670954, or 07799303045.
For more details about sea swimming with Brighton Swimming Club, click here.