Wild swimming with Kari Furre

Wild swimming with Kari Furre

Words Jude Rogers

Photographs Linda Brownlee

Film by Don Bush for Alpkit

A unique film follows fish leather artist Kari Furre as she follows her other pioneering pursuit: wild swimming…

Kari Furre is one of the few people in the world creating finely crafted luxury products out of the unusual raw material of fish leather, which she produces herself using the fish skins you can see drying outside her Devon home as you arrive. Furre – who is half-Norwegian – became one of the pioneers of wild swimming in the UK around the same time as she moved to Totnes, semi-retiring, in 2005. ‘We used to call it going for a swim,’ she says, self-deprecatingly. ‘I’d been on a few swimming holidays abroad, then I suddenly realised I could swim in England too – well, duh! It just so happened that other people did too, at the same time.’

On one fortuitous swim from Bletchley to Oxford, she met Kate Rew in the water, who was working on her soon-to-be-ground-breaking book, Wild Swim. Furre helped her with research, travelling to the Outer Hebrides and the Lake District to find good places. Still close friends, they have only just returned from a 10km wild swim together, moving inland from Barmouth in North Wales along the river Mawddach, taking in the landscape and the current and the calm as they went.

‘The need to swim like that – not for fitness, but to see new things – comes from the same place in my brain as making things,’ Furre explains. ‘They’re both very process-led: about me finding out how to do something, then doing it again and again. It’s all about focus, really. I mean, if you’re swimming or making something and thinking about other things, you might as well not be swimming or making things.’ In other words, Furre’s art and her sport are at a piece with each other – and indeed, at a peace. ‘For me, swimming is travelling through water – and I travel to find it,’ she says. ‘And when you’re in it, you think about the ancient-ness of it. The rivers, the seas – they’re as old as mountains. And we know less about the sea than we do about space. That keeps pulling me back.’

Watch the film by Don Bush for Alpkit here.