First meeting with Arlon Owens and Roy Morgan.
It was a Monday in July 1965 on Rest Bay with the tide out.
I was playing in the rock pools with my cousins Noel and Sian with my Mum and Aunt watching us. Arlon spotted a family who liked beaches and came over to talk. Liking a family with similar background, he was happy talking about his new venture, the Sospan Fach café in John Street.
Roy Morgan strutting out of the sea recognised Mum or maybe myself (probably by Siloam chapel in Cefn Cribwr), also came over to talk. He never got time to introduce himself to my family. Roy and Arlon started talking and although they might have met before, that was the day they realised they both swam in the sea daily throughout the year. Roy about 7.30 in the morning and Arlon about 9am or later. They resolved to meet at Rest Bay regularly at weekends and Arlon would try to arrive earlier in the week.
Being a long term Christmas swimmer, most Christmas days merge into one. The main difference being the location of changing rooms. In the early days, the Manor Suite mostly painted black, dark but brightened by lots of holly and lots of paper trimmings. A tremendously happy atmosphere, lots of carol singing helped by Porthcawl Male Voice Choir and Porthcawl Brass Band. A bugler sounded the time to race down the beach to the sea. Usually the carnival arrived about five minutes earlier. Mostly the carnival was children in fancy dress and it was these children plus other children on the beach who waited patiently for the swimmers return from the sea to collect their mugs from Arlon Owens (Coco the Clown) or Father or Mother Christmas.
In the early years every swimmer was introduced to each other. Most people shook hands or kissed. The main talk was the sea temperature, the weather conditions and the traffic conditions. The weather was usually dry and often sunny. At Porthcawl only a few years were blustery.
There was one year that stood out for me. THE YEAR I NEARLY BROKE THE STRING.
At home, near the coast in Gwent, Christmas Eve was exceptionally windy. A gale howled through the eves in our house, the front door rattled and we could hear tiles crashing off people’s roofs. After poor nights sleep we awoke to find our side fences down and tree branches everywhere. My parents feared the motorway would be littered with debris. My Dad put his foot down and said, “If you go to Porthcawl, you go alone”. Mum usually accompanied me. I started off early. No need to wait for Mum to return from church at 9am. Driving slowly and stopping for coffee, I arrived at Porthcawl. A bright sunny day, a few clouds, no wind. The carnival float was arriving early; it could be seen in the distance about 400 yards away. Of course it was a successful Christmas Swim, but what year? Sometime before 1989.
Preparing for the swim
My first Christmas Swim was the year the Gazette published the photo of Goldilocks and the 3 bears and the leaders of the Swim in the lifeboat. It was taken on the first Saturday in December 1978 on a cold rainy day. Having swam at Rest Bay in the morning we all assembled at the lifeboat station at about 1pm. They tried to take the swimmers in the sea with the lifeboat. It proved too difficult, so we all climbed in the lifeboat at the side of the lifeboat station. It’s amazing how happy we all looked.
Every year the Christmas Swim organisers start preparations about October, collecting money and publicising the event. It took some arranging to get that photo and it’s a classic. Often published in Christmas Swim leaflets.
There were years with frost on the beach, (about 1982) and recently with snow and a tremendous effort of many strong men to move the snow from the beach. One year the snow started at about 12.30pm (2005), but the Christmas Swim has always gone on. Let’s hope there will be a 100 year anniversary.