Ocean: The Cornish Water-Women
Wake up at 4am to hang out on the beach? Yes please! We packed our bags and headed to Cornwall to meet three passionate water-women and discuss their profound love of the ocean
By Emma Fraser-Bell
Photography by Megan Hemsworth
I’m Emma Fraser-Bell, a sports massage therapist and writer. Recently, I received an interesting call from my friend, the talented photographer Meg Hemsworth. She proposed an exciting opportunity: to wake at 4am and join her and our mutual friend Beth Leighfield, one of the UK’s rising longboarding talents who recently represented GB at the World Longboard Championships, for a photoshoot and film with Glorious. The aim; to capture the essence of Sweaty Betty’s new and more planet-friendly swimwear line. The three of us share a profound love for the ocean and for its preservation, making this a perfect opportunity to combine our passions and share our experiences in honour of World Ocean Day to promote its theme, Planet Ocean: Tides Are Changing. Without a moment’s hesitation, it was an absolute yes!
We started the morning off in Megs’ kitchen, huddling round the kettle at 4am. Anticipation filled the air as we prepared to embark on what we do best; slipping into our swimsuits and heading for the water. Stepping out of Meg’s seaside cottage in Portreath, Cornwall, we were greeted by a pleasant warmth, a pink cloudless sky, and the mellifluous sound of the waves crashing against the shore. For me, the ocean possesses an irresistible allure that beckons me at any given moment. It is a sanctuary where the burdens of life dissipate, and pure joy flows freely. The ocean has become a healing playground, a place where I’ve forged connections with kindred spirits. As we set out for our morning shoot, my companions shared their profound thoughts on the significance of the ocean in their lives.
Reflecting on her personal journey, Meg discusses the multifaceted meaning the ocean holds for her. In her childhood, it served as a unifying force, fostering treasured family memories. During her University years, it became an escape from the chaos of daily life, a place where she could unwind, let go of thoughts, and immerse herself in Cornwall’s breathtaking coastline. Now, as an adult, Meg sees the sea as a powerful conduit for meeting extraordinary women who inspire her in pursuing her passions. Furthermore, she attests to the profound impact the ocean has on her mental wellbeing. Immersed in the water, Meg finds solace and a meditative practice, and in moments of stillness, as she floats amidst the vastness of the sea, the outside world fades away. It serves as a reminder of our insignificance in the grand scheme of things, urging us to seize every precious moment life offers.
It’s a similar story for Beth, who grew up along the Cornish coastline. The ocean’s magnetic pull has always been present in her life and has moulded her into the person she is today. At the tender age of 10, she discovered the exhilaration of surfing, and it has since become an enduring passion.
“The ocean, for me, is a place to escape the stress and strains of everyday life. Going into the sea fosters mindfulness and a grounding in the present. As a competitive surfer, the ocean is also a place for me to embrace my athleticism. It’s a way to express my style and creativity on water in a way I can’t on land. It’s a feeling of complete freedom,” says Beth.
The ocean now serves as her workplace, her arena for competition, and her community. As a surf instructor, she considers herself privileged to share her love for the ocean with others, witnessing firsthand the sheer joy, liberation, and lightheartedness that comes with immersing oneself in the water.
In their shared experiences and reflections, Meg and Beth echo sentiments that resonate deeply within me. The ocean is a realm of boundless possibility, where cherished memories are forged, personal growth is nurtured, and a profound sense of interconnectedness with the natural world is cultivated.
In Cornwall alone, there is a vibrant community of talented women who embrace the ocean every single day. Along my own water-led journey, I have been fortunate to cross paths with these extraordinary women who possess remarkable talent and humility. It is evident that they have developed a deep and unbreakable bond with the ocean, and I have no doubt that they will go to great lengths to protect and preserve it.
As we plunge into the water together, I am struck by the remarkable transformation I witness in Beth. As her sand covered toes touch saltwater, her eyes light up with a familiarity and zeal, as if reunited with a beloved friend. Meg, too, dons that unmistakable look of anticipation and enthusiasm in her eyes. Any concerns about the shooting conditions are instantly forgotten the moment our skin meets the water.
world ocean day
During our conversations, Meg and I delve further into this profound connection, acknowledging the crucial understanding of the ocean and its elements required for a successful shoot in nature.
“I have to track charts and forecasts, keeping an eye on weather patterns such as wind, sun, or swell. Working in nature poses its challenges, but with this connection and understanding of the ocean’s movements, a sense of friendship emerges,” Meg explains. “If you were to ask any surfer or open water swimmer, ‘Is the sea a friend to you?’ they would undoubtedly respond with a resounding yes.”
Meg’s hours spent capturing moments in the water have endowed her with a serene familiarity. As she enters the water, despite its unpredictable nature, she displays a comfortable ease. Meg’s reputation as a skilled surf and in-water photographer precedes her, and her imagery speaks volumes about her talent. Watching her in action, skilfully navigating the ever-changing flow of water, gracefully swimming amidst rip currents, and diving beneath set waves, is no easy feat.
The ocean, for Beth and for many of us, has become a safe space where we can express ourselves freely, without judgment. When we enter the water, a weight is lifted – both physically and mentally. We have become enamoured with that feeling of weightlessness, a momentary release from the gravity of life on land. Beth has a passion for the environment not solely focussed on surfing, she has a BA Hons Degree in Geography from Exeter University, and is an employee of a Cornish charity, looking to tackle fuel poverty and improve energy efficiency and access to renewables for poorer communities down here in Cornwall. During our discussions, Beth shared her views on World Ocean Day and highlighted the importance of recognising and appreciating the vital role that oceans play in balancing our ecosystems.
“I often feel overwhelmed by the climate crisis and what the best way forward is. I think recognising World Ocean Day is important as it brings ocean conservation back into the limelight. By celebrating and appreciating the vital role that oceans play in balancing our ecosystems, World Ocean Day helps inspire and unite action to protect our oceans. Whether that’s educating families on their beach holiday about beach plastic pollution, mobilising large-scale protests, or opting for more sustainable swimwear from brands like Sweaty Betty, leaving a positive impact on the environment and encouraging others to do the same,” Beth asserts.
The significance of World Ocean Day for Meg goes beyond reaching those who already have a love for the ocean. She aims to educate and engage audiences who may not yet realise the importance of protecting it. Even if it means teaching one person during their annual beach trip, regardless of location, to bring back their litter and prevent it from washing out to sea, these small steps contribute to cultivating positive habits and collectively making a difference, and Beth’s words bring this to light in our Glorious x Sweaty Betty film, “We find peace, connection and friendship in the vast expanse of blue. It’s up to us to make more sustainable choices in order to protect it for generations to come.”
Introducing a positive habit can be begin with something as simple as the swimwear we choose to wear, opting for eco-friendly fabrics instead of neoprene. As water-women, who spend the majority of our time in the sea and strive to make conscious environmental choices whenever possible, it is important for us to wear swimwear made from recycled materials. Without compromising on fashion and fit, the planet-friendly pieces from Sweaty Betty’s latest collection and Xtra Life swimwear range (these pieces uses fibres that make the swimwear extra long-lasting – up to 10 years with the right care) retain that infamous sculpting shape and comfort that not only makes us feel confident, strong, and supported but also aligns with our values. The ocean brings us so much joy and healing, and you don’t have to be a professional surfer, swimmer, or in-water photographer to witness its impact. Just observe the crowds of holidaymakers who flock to our British shores during bank holidays, half terms, or school breaks, seeking the sights, sounds, and joy of the ocean.
It is fascinating to learn, especially from a competitive surfer like Beth, how surf culture has evolved in recent years. “Historically, surfing has definitely been a male-dominated sport,” Beth acknowledges. “However, the tide is turning, and more women are taking to the water. In competitive surfing, there has been a significant push in recent years for equal pay in prize money and this is fostering an environment where talent, passion, and dedication matter more than gender. It is my hope that this change will make surfing a more vibrant, inclusive, and inspiring sport for everyone.” Beth also hopes that this push will lead to her gaining sponsorship and for longboarding to be included in the 2028 Olympics.
For Meg, even though she doesn’t surf, she has witnessed firsthand the diversification of surf culture since becoming an integral part of it. “Since I first started taking an interest in surfing, from admiring it in magazines as a child to now, although I don’t surf myself, I choose to empower the female surf community through my photography. It has become significantly more inclusive,” Meg explains.
“There are now women-only surf camps, BAME groups, men’s mental health coaching weekends, LGBTQ+ surf retreats, and the list goes on. There is a place for everyone. It’s incredibly special to see the growth in inclusivity, and as a female, I feel so welcomed swimming amongst the surf community here in Cornwall.”
In conclusion, being part of this shoot to help raise awareness for World Ocean Day has been such an exciting and eye-opening experience and is a reminder of our duty to protect and preserve the sea for the sake of future generations. It is difficult to imagine a life without this salty playground of ours. However, for the title Planet Ocean: Tides Are Changing, to really make an impact it is a collective effort that requires us to take action in order to make a real difference and shift the tides.
Sweaty Betty has already taken steps in this direction with their swimwear line, offering stylish, comfortable, and durable pieces that are built to last, but it is imperative that every single one of us plays our part, however small, in preserving and conserving the sea, and leaving it in a better condition than how we found it. On this World Ocean Day, let us reflect and recognise our interconnectedness and the importance of our actions.