Exploring Water from the Shore With Queer Bruk
Picture Notting Hill Carnival meets London Pride, and you’ve got the vibe club night Queer Bruk is going for, but all year round, January to December. The Afro-Caribbean night and platform started in 2016 with dancehall and afrobeat parties. Other than giving their community an alternative to the Top 40 hits you often hear at gay nights – ”don’t get me wrong, I love that, but it's not every day you want Ariana Grande,” says founder Akeil Onwukwe-Adamson – the party’s USP is its inclusivity of queer POC across the gender spectrum and a broad range of ages.
In the same way that QueerBruk provides a space for freedom and escapism through sweating it out on the dancefloor, swimming has been able to provide the same by day for Akeil. Growing up in Spain, Akeil’s relationship with water started early, but when he moved to London, where swimming spots were fewer and farther between, he had to go in search of places where you can come as yourself, bring the carnival vibe with you, or just take time out and meditate.
Not the most confident swimmer from an athletics perspective, he has found other reasons to see out the water, acknowledging that sometimes, as a queer person of colour, it can be important to find a place to swim that can feel relaxing, inclusive, or where you don’t feel body conscious – and when you do, the rewards can be massive. Here’s what he’s learned.
You don’t have to get in if you don’t want to…
“I’ll always get into a swimming pool, but not always the sea. I just need to get to the point where I'm comfortable to do it,” says Akeil – and sometimes, that moment doesn’t come. But the point of water isn’t just swimming. Especially if you’re with the right people.
“When I last went to the beach with my boyfriend, he went in but I didn't even touch it. I don't like the cold! But I like being by it, the vastness of it actually freaks me out but I’m also in awe of that, and the smell, the air, and being out of London. So I still get something out of it even though I’ve not got in it.”
Water should be a safe space.
It’s easy to feel self-conscious when swimming, especially if you’re in a minority, says Akeil. So water should be a judgement-free zone. As his Insta bio reads: “I didn’t come to judge, I just came to get you moist.” While parties can provide safe spaces, sometimes you don’t want to be packed around bodies, you want space, air, nature – this is where outdoor swimming comes in.
For queer POC swimmers, Akeil’s advice is to look out for diversity. “You can't really feel safe in a space as a Black person if you're the only Black person in there. And regardless of whether people are saying anything. I try to go to places that are majority black, or half at least, just because it makes me feel safe when I know there are other people there I can talk to if needs be, and that have similar cultural and historical experiences so we can relate.”
Don’t underestimate British beaches - they have more potential than we think
British beaches have potential to be rediscovered or to play home to diverse cultural projects. Recently, Akeil discovered Margate after friends moved there and steered him towards the British seaside town’s Black community. “There is, to my surprise, a large Black community, and Black platforms and organisations, but people don't realise that. The girls who started Everyday Racism live down there and just did a book signing, there's a platform/collective called Peopledem, plus a black-owned venue called WHAT,”
Akeil recommends Margate’s main beach for swimming, the Turner gallery at the end of the beach, and the restaurant Barletta, along with the annual Margate Pride. “Sometimes, if you look for it, there are pockets of people there who are trying to push these areas to be more diverse and multicultural, and little places that act as safe spaces.”
Do your research, get familiar
When exploring new swimming spots as a minority, if possible go with a group of friends, but when that’s not realistic, familiarise yourself with the locality when you arrive so you can “decide for yourself whether that is actually somewhere that you want to stick in and if you genuinely feel safe”. If you’re exploring alone, finding a literal common ground can be super helpful too – some cities have a gay beach where queer people might feel more comfortable expressing themselves.
“Doing your research before you leave is really smart, as is taking recommendations from people,” says Akeil. “With a personal tip you can just cut straight to what’s what.”
Remember to switch off
“I think that in the Black community and queer community there can be a feeling that every day is political, a struggle, something else that they're having to contend with. And so I think that bodies of water can act as an oasis or escape,” he concludes. So try to switch off, be present, and take the oasis feeling back with you.
Explore Open Waters, Trippin’s guide to the people and places making waves across our seas, lakes, oceans, and lidos, produced in partnership with Nike Swim.