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.
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.
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).