DURING lockdown, the Dryrobe became a fashion statement on the Irish coastline, as the new national sport of sea swimming swept across the country. The warmth and practically of the robe became an acceptable and fashionable form of outer-wear for swimmers.
However, Kinsale man Mark Eaton decided to brave Irish waters for more than 400 days while donning a collection of colourful briefs - known as ‘budgie smugglers’ - and create a fashion statement all of his own!
In the process, he raised money for Pieta House and Kinsale Youth Support Services (KYSS), which both received €1,375.
“The budgie smugglers are fun and colourful,” says Mark. “I guess you can say they are my thing. The funky designs are great and it’s all about being yourself. Anyone can wear them.”
Do they garner a bit of attention?
“Yes! admits Mark. “I was swimming in Sandycove one day and I heard a kid say to his mother, ‘That’s the man with the funny swim togs!’ I don’t take myself too seriously!
“Often, I run from the beach into the water and there are people wearing coats, hats and scarves, and they wonder, ‘What’s he at? What’s he doing?’
“Some people think I’m a mad man! It’s great fun I hope to keep it going. And it’s really amazing for your health.”
The trunks have their own perks.
“You have great freedom in the water,” says Mark. “And you don’t have to worry about drying a wet-suit or heavier togs. The budgie smugglers dry quickly and they are very light. I have loads of different designs”
Mark’s discovery of the health benefits of a daily dip began in October, 2020.
“When I came home from Australia, I decided I needed something to clear my head so I just started taking a dip three times a week,” says Mark.
“One day in November, I thought, I’ll have a dip again tomorrow. The days started adding up and I really felt the health benefits of sea swimming, both physically and mentally.
“In the sea, you enjoy the moment and forget any worries you may have. I train a lot and I find it helps to recover in the water.
“I’m all about health and training has many health benefits. You can enjoy it too and attain your goals. Enjoying life is important too. It is good to have the mix. Training compliments your life; it shouldn’t take over your life.”
Mark soon got his sea legs.
“I thought after going in the sea for three days, I can hit a week, then a month, and even a year. It was simply a matter of dipping into the sea and counting the days.
“I decided to set up a Gofundmepage to raise money for two worthwhile charities, Pieta House and KYSS.
“I presented the cheques to both in mid-December. Raising funds for the two charities helped support people who felt the effects of the pandemic and who may have been struggling. The pandemic was tough for everyone.”
When did he decide he could go dipping in the sea for a whole year?
“After the 150 day milestone went by and then the 300 day milestone came and went, I thought, maybe one year could be on the cards.”
Mark’s dips became popular online and he posted daily pictures of himself donning colourful swimwear on his social media posts.
“The support was brilliant,” says Mark, who came home from Australia with his girlfriend Karen in late 2020.
“By November 26, I had raised nearly €3,000 for the two charities. In the beginning, I was doing most of the dips on my own, but then people started joining me in the water.
“There is a great sea-swimming community in Kinsale, Garrettstown and Sandycove and all over Ireland. When I was in Co. Mayo I swam in Achill Island and Belmullet and there were great turn-outs there too.”
Many others reluctant to take the plunge watched Mark from the safety of the shore as he braved the icy waters of the Irish sea.
Are the waters in Melbourne more forgiving?
“The sea here is much colder than in Australia,” says Mark. “But it often got wild and cold in Melbourne too. It could be chilly.”
Did Mark take to life Down Under?
“We decided to travel there for a couple of years, to enjoy life and live it up a little,” says Mark.
“We were there for under two years. I had to come home because of visas and everything, so our travels were cut short.
“But it’s a great place to come back to. Kinsale has a great community,” adds Mark, who works at Cross-fit in the town as a personal trainer and strengthening coach.
Did he discover the budgie smuggler swimwear when he was in Oz?
“When the pandemic hit in Oz, I went online and bought some pairs,” explains Mark, who makes a splash in the tight-fitting swimming trunks in the sea every day.
“I have about 10 pairs, I wear a different pair every day of the week, I have a whole different array of the swimming trunks.
“I think it is a bit of light-hearted fun. The trunks are colourful and fun.”
Will he start a new fashion statement for Irish men?
“I think everyone can wear them,” says Mark.
He may be on to something too.
Richard Jarman, the founder and creative director of Sydney swimwear, Commas, says: “Guys are becoming more adventurous with fashion. Men’s swimwear prints have traditionally been more conservative but the current climate has seen demand for optimistic prints - puppies, palm trees, even pancakes, to lighten the colour palettes. I think anyone can wear whatever they want.”
Mark is hoping others will take the plunge in the Speedo brand.
“I’m trying to win the hearts of the Kinsale people for the budgie smugglers!”
Did he win over his girlfriend Karen with the natty swimwear?
“She’s not my biggest fan,” admits Mark. “She might come round to the idea, she still laughs about them. We’ll slowly get there.”
The ladies can avail of their own budgie smugglers too.
“There’s a girls’ brand called smugglettes,” says Mark.
Does he intend on adding to his collection of budgie smugglers for his daily dips, now clocking over 400 days?
“I think I have enough for a while. I think it’s great light-hearted fun that people enjoy. This summer, people might give in and wear them. I’ll win them round!”
Kinsale Youth Support Services: Phone: 085-8725789
Pieta House Cork: Phone: 021-439 5333