New Year's Day swim a 'brilliant hangover cure'.
IT ALL started as a joke between mates after a pint or two on New Year's Eve.
Now 33 - or perhaps 34 - years later it is an annual event attracting thousands ready to brave everything against the cold.
This is the story of the Barry Island New Year's Day swim and the traditions it has inspired.
For South Wales Fire and Rescue worker Rob Salter the swim is, at its core, a good excuse to catch up with mates.
Every year the lifeguard volunteer will turn up, slightly worse for wear, at the water's edge alongside whoever happens to turn up too.
No matter how large it grows, he has no idea how many people attend or how much money it will raise.
"The very first time the idea came around was at a pub on the seafront called Bindles. It was either 1984 or 1985," Rob, 54, said.
"They were doing fundraising - people were sitting in a bath of beans, all those sorts of things.
"A few of us thought we would do our bit and wade into the water up to our chests while drinking a pint of beer. We did it, but there was quite big waves and our beer glasses filled up with sea water."
The idea of a full New Year's Day swim took a further nine months to come together - aided by a few drinks.
Rob, a father-of-two and grandfatherof-two said: "On the back of that, the first mention of the swim was mooted but it wasn't until New Year's Eve that we decided to do it. We were out and just said we had to make it down to the beach the next morning, and that's how it became a New Year's Day swim.
"There was probably about six or seven of us. It was a very bleak, windy, tide-half-out type of beach so there wasn't a lot of attention.
"We lined up and in we charged, watched by a few seagulls and possibly a dog walker or two."
In the three decades since the inaugural swim one tradition has remained. To mark a proper dip, each participant must get their head under the water three times, get out, and repeat the feat twice more to cure the hangover from the night before - a practice still followed by hardcore participants. Rob, from Barry, said: "We were pleasantly surprised. Yes, it was cold and uncomfortable, but we had our bravado so no-one could back down.
"The first thing we realised was that it was a brilliant hangover cure. We all went in feeling rough and came out feeling quite perky.
"We returned to the relative comfort of the western shelter and celebrated our achievement with a tot of Jack Daniels."
From that moment the annual swim was born. Each year the men returned, accompanied steadily by a bigger and bigger crowd of spectators.
Rob said: "At first if there was 15 people we thought we were doing good. Then it started growing, there would be a few more coming along "Once we got to the millennium we were getting about 30 or 40 people and all of a sudden in 2009 - we don't know what prompted it, perhaps the start of social media - we just turned up and there was quite a lot of people, about 100-odd."
Rob, who has also founded the Jackson Bay Lifeguard Club, said he sees the swim as a "good reunion" for those that were involved from the early years.
He said: "There's people that come year after year and it's really nice to see them. But there's also a strange feeling when there is someone that has been coming for a long time and you don't see them there anymore."
Along the way other traditions have started to develop on their own. Every year more and more fancy dress costumes appear along the beach, bringing a flash of colour to a usually bleak winter's day.
Since its inception the swim has been held every single year - through hail, snow, rain and sunshine.
"Every year we have done it. We've had to adapt it sometimes because of the weather but that's just restricting how far people charge into the water."
Despite its success, Rob's attitude towards the event is modest. With no registration for swimmers beforehand he has no idea how many people have taken part in the past or how much they will have raised for charity.
He said: "I just make sure the message gets out there every year. All I have to do is line them up and send them in the right direction.
"I haven't got the faintest idea [how much it raises]. Sometimes a cause will come back and say we have raised PS1,500 or whatever. With people who have raised their money in different ways I wouldn't know how much they collected.
"I hope I'm doing something right, but I'm just not sure what."
This year's swim will see Rob hand over the reins to children's hospice Ty Hafan, which will take over the running of the Barry New Year's Day Swim.
For the first time people are being asked to register ahead of the event on their webpage, but you can still sign up on the day.
Registration is free but the charity is asking for a PS5 optional donation at check-in - with a medal and hot drink handed out to those who do.
Check in will open at 11am and, as usual, everyone will get into the water at noon. In the run-up to the big event, dippers can take part in a warm-up provided by Barry-based Cardio Core Fitness.
<B Participants in the first Barry Island New Year's Day swim
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|Publication:||Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)|
|Date:||Dec 31, 2018|
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