Have you heard of longe-côte or sea hiking? It’s a sport that swaps sports ground for seaside. Sea hiking surfaced just 4 years ago in 2007, in the north of France. Almost 2000 French people take part in sea hiking – whether the water temperature is a clement 19 degrees Celsius or a bone-numbing 6 degrees.
Now sea hiking has come to Holland. On the Zandvoort beach –a short train ride from Amsterdam. My friend Carole, responsible for launching the sport in the Netherlands, invited me to try it.
So what is sea hiking?
Zipped into a thick wetsuit you wade through deep water, up to your chest in the sea, for up to 4 kilometres (or ditch the wetsuit in summer if the water is warmer). Some people use a paddle to make progress, but the paddle isn’t essential. Surprisingly sociable, sea hiking is straightforward to master. So sea hiking is just that. It’s a walk, but in water. It is a complete work-out –cardiovascular as well as muscular.
So that you enjoy the experience as well as make the most of the workout, it’s useful to learn the technique of hiking through water. A firm tread is important to maintain a secure footing on the ground – this reduces the sideways push/pull effect of the current or swell. A good style is to take generous strides and to lean your body slightly forward and straight in order to part the water gracefully. The pace depends on a person’s individual strength.
Walking in the sea uses all your muscles but those working hardest are the abdominals, psoas, hip flexors and glutes. You are also working the heart and building stamina. This sport is what you make it: sea hiking can be a relaxing stroll or an intensive work-out, depending on your level of fitness and your own goals. People find their own level.
This sport’s greatest advantage over alternative sports is the venue –that’s the sea. For the elderly, the over-weight or people recovering from injury, sea hiking is an ideal low-impact environment that’s more challenging and fun than going to the swimming pool.
My sea hiking initiation
For my taster session, we met at the sea-hiking base at the Rapa-Nui club house at Zandvoort. I donned my neoprene wetsuit, as well as wetsuit gloves and boots – subject to a 10 Euro hire fee payable to the club.
We were a group of about ten people. Once all of us were ready, we headed across the sand towards the sea. Into the water I went, without a backward glance. The deeper I went, the more difficult it was to propel myself forward.
Underwater and unseen, the sand was uneven and occasionally I stumbled into a dip. Suddenly I was up to my neck and just bobbing about unable to make any progress forward. I needed to move closer to the water’s-edge to find just the right depth.
I soon realised that the knack was to find a compromise: go deep enough to gain just enough buoyancy to ease forward movement, but not so deep that I lost momentum. Repeatedly losing my balance, I found sea hiking focused the mind.
Legs and arms were working hard. By leaning forward a little and by pushing down with my arms on to the surface of the water, I proceeded a tad quicker.
After about half an hour, we had barely covered 2 kilometres! I was sure I could do better. The group turned around as one. And bang, that was when the going got really tough. We were now against the current and the wind. It was half-tide – when the tidal current is at its strongest.
People out for a stroll along the beach stopped and stared. ‘What on earth are those nutters doing up to their necks in the drink, working like pack-horses?’ ‘Oh dear! Have they lost their surfboards? Why else would they be in the sea and wearing wetsuits?’
We were soon returned to where we started from and back on dry land. I felt incredibly light and really fit.
‘Sea hiking is a fun sport. It’s a whole body workout that you can take as gently or as intensively as you like,’ enthused Carole.
Give it a go!
For more information, and if you want to have a go at sea hiking, find sea hiking in the Netherlands on Facebook. The Dutch word for sea hiking is ‘cote-lijnen’: facebook.com/Cotelijnen