Sam is contemplating cold water swimming. I’m one of the people whose facebook posts have her intrigued!
I started this spring. Swimming last year was so much fun I couldn’t wait to start this year (I live in a coastal village). I read a bit; I listened to some podcasts. I found one of my climbing friends is an experienced freshwater swimmer; I asked her lots of questions. COVID-19 was on so I was looking for excitement close to home this spring.
In late April, I started getting in and out of the water. I had a good few months of swimming through the summer and as late as October (the ocean stays warm longer than lakes do). I went back to dipping in and out of the water in November, and now (mid-December) I’ve even resorted to a wetsuit.
I remember swimming in lakes in Saskatchewan as a kid–the water was cold enough to produce blue lips in August. But here, in the North Atlantic ocean, I’ve been learning about whole new levels of cold. There’s ankle-aching cold (coldest); there’s shooting-nerve-pains-in-the-hands cold (a little less cold—that’s an existing vulnerability); and there’s a neck-cramp cold (almost swimmable). Above the neck cramp temperature, I can stay in the water and swim.
These are all November – December photos. Mind you, it’s Nova Scotia (not Saskatchewan), so November – December can still mean +9C.
That doesn’t sound like much of an advertisement, does it? The thing is, it’s a very satisfying experience. Hugely refreshing. A mood lifter. It makes an enormous difference if you tell yourself on the way to the water: ‘I’m really looking forward to an ice bath.’ (You don’t have to believe it when you say it.) It also helps to refer to swimming in lakes and the ocean the way the British do–as “wild swimming.” (Doesn’t that sound wonderful?)
There are safety concerns. I understand it’s best to walk in instead of dive or jump. Monitor your breathing. When your body wants to gasp and you halt your breath, that’s an involuntary response to the cold. If you’re going slowly, you can re-establish your breathing before you continue. If you’ve jumped in over your head and you do this, you could drown when you gasp and take in water. Make it your initial goal just to get in and out. Only gradually start to extend the amount of time you spend in the water. When you start to do that, you should do some of your own research to learn about what’s safe and what to pay attention to in your body. Your body temperature will continue to drop for some time after you get out of the water (20 minutes, I believe)–you have to plan to get somewhere warm, get the wet clothes off, maybe even take a hot shower.
(I won’t go into the sauna options, but I have to admit I first got into water this cold in April in Geneva, at the Bains des Pâquis, where there are three kinds of heat–sauna, hammam, and turkish bath–on offer when you get out.)
I have gone in one day when there was snow on the ground, but I’m nowhere near going in when there’s ice on the water, unlike Cath Pendleton.
Here’s more about Cath Pendleton: