The Joys and Benefits of Open Water Swimming

Last year my husband spent every Sunday morning of the entire winter swimming in the sea. He estimated that water temperature got as low as 8C. Apart from three weeks when we visited Vietnam, and one weekend when we were away at the snow, he went for a swim in the sea.

I’ll be frank, I thought he was mad. While I lolled about in my pjs with my hot cup of tea, he’d change into his boardies and head into the water (with only a swimming cap for warmth). He’d return half an hour or so later, with purple lips and a shiver that only a hot shower would calm. But his eyes would be sparkling and you could see he was electric with adrenalin.

Then one day in October 2017 I read a really interesting article on The Conversation on the benefits of swimming in sea water. You can read it here if you’re interested.  Something turned in my brain after reading that article.

I live on the bay, so during Summer, I’m regularly in and out of the sea. But some days I’d go to the beach and not swim. I’d just sit on the sand while my kids played. Often I’d only swim if it was really really hot. And it got me thinking that perhaps I was depriving myself of a whole host of benefits by sitting it out. So I was curious about what would happen if I gave it a go.

With it being October, the conditions were not quite as extreme as those that my husband had experienced; but cold enough for a novice like me. That Sunday in October I officially joined Parkdale Ice Burgers. The temperature on that day was 15C. Definitely cold enough for me. And the hook? It was only going to get warmer. And so it has.

Almost every Sunday since, I’ve joined my husband for a dip in the ocean – rain, hail or shine. But let me be clear. I’m no swimmer. The other Parkdale swimmers swim out to ‘the pole’, which is about 150 meters from the shore. Some swim in a triangle, across to the next pole then back in. I’m yet to make it out to the pole – one, because I am terribly unfit, and two, because I am a terrible swimmer. But I do hope to correct that. At the moment I can only manage about a 20 meter swim before I have to stop. But to swim out to ‘the pole’ is something I hope to achieve this year.

On his way out to “the pole”. I’ll get there one day.

Without a doubt, in my very short career as an Ice Burger, the most therapeutic benefits have come from swimming in very cold water. You don’t get that amazing skin tingle from warm water. Nor do I get any relief from my chronic hip bursitis from swimming in warm water. After one particular cold water swim the pain in my hip was gone and I remained pain free until about 4.30 in the afternoon. Something I can only hope for after popping a couple of Nurofen.

At the moment the sea is so warm, it’s lovely. The water temperature is currently sitting somewhere between 23 and 24C. However, the benefits still abound when the water is warm. To start with there is no ‘cold water shock’ to contend with.

Swimming in the sea (whatever the temperature), is extremely meditative. It’s awe-inspiring; there is no greater opportunity to understand your own insignificance and the power of the natural world than swimming in a choppy sea on a stormy day. The same can be said for floating around in the water, looking at the sky as the waves undulate gently.

Not a bad view to greet you on a Sunday morning!

Over the holidays I listened to a great podcast on The Good Life Project, where Jonathan Fields interviews Wim Hof. It’s called “The Making of the Ice Man”. You can listen here, and I highly recommend it.  Wim Hof is a fascinating man, who has made a career out of tapping in “to the transformational power of extreme cold and water”. It’s a captivating listen anyway, but more so if you’re interested in the possible benefits of cold water therapy.

I’m going to try and swim through winter too, although there is absolutely no ego in me, so I’ll see how I go. I’ll keep turning up and see what unfolds. I do feel that to get the true benefits of the sea combined with the cold water, I need to swim through the hard parts. None of the others swim with a wetsuit, but I don’t think there are any rules, so I might give that I try if I feel like giving it up.

If you’re tempted to try it, come along. You don’t have to live Bayside to do it, you can go to your nearest beach, or river. (If you have a chronic condition – particularly a heart condition – it’s worth running it by your doctor first).

What do make of all this? Would you give it a try?


  1. says

    I was so thrilled to read this Collette. My background when young was as a lifeguard on an English beach. The training in the English Channel was brutal!!! Swimming in the ocean is so good for your soul and I totally get it and am so happy that you are feeling the benefits. I am also delighted for your hip! I used to know a 90 year old lady in my hometown, she was a kiwi, and lived in the old town right on the beach. She swam every single morning of the year in the English Channel. She said she had done this since she was 30 and the benefits to her life were enormous. She was out there at 7 am every morning. So good. I wish I lived on the beach because I would possibly give it a bash. Funnily enough I am more cautious of Australian waters!!!! Loved this post and I’ve been thinking about it loads and squealing xxxx

    • collette says

      Wow! The English channel is brutal, and so is the climate! I think when my kids are a bit older and I can leave them alone in the house, I will go in the morning during the week. What a way to start the day! You’re right to be cautious of the Australian waters, especially in Queensland! Stunning, but so dangerous. I don’t think I’d attempt a swim in those beaches. I’m glad the post made you happy. ❤️

  2. Nic says

    Do the warm waters of Queensland count? I’m definitly tempted after a lovely boogie board session this afternoon but that’s probably the worst way to get lured into this undertaking!

    • collette says

      Of course, and like Melbourne waters, it will get colder. But the water doesn’t have to be cold to get benefits, there are so many amazing minerals in sea water that you won’t find anywhere else, so a frolic in those is great for you. But then there’s the fun aspect – and what better way to enjoy the good play in the waves than with a boogie board! So good!

    • collette says

      It is SO thrilling Meryl, but not that scary because it’s the bay, so it’s pretty tame. It was amazing, the hip, so when the temps drop a bit, it will be a challenge but am hoping that it has the same soothing effect. It’s not cold enough for that at the moment, but those cool temps will be here before we know it! Thanks for reading. xx

    • collette says

      How fab to be part of an ocean race! I am so far away from anything like that, but one day… never say never! How did you train for it? Did you do any pool swimming or all open water? Regarding the cold, if you swim regularly your body adapts, but I’m sure once you feel the buzz of the cold water after effects you’ll come back for more.

What are you thoughts?