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Cold water swimming

Posted on | Tags: Sea, swimming, sunset | Comments (18)

I went for a dip in the sea the other day. That is, I did swim, but not for long enough to count as "going for a swim". Yes, it was cold.

Sunset

Sunset. Click for more pictures.

I spent eight months of last year - March to October - living in a flat in Borth, a few miles up the coast from Aberystwyth. I'd split up with my husband in February and moved out to give him time and space to sort himself out, before moving back to the house (without him) in the autumn. So I got summer by the sea, sharing a flat with a friend, living next door to a chip shop and just across the road from the beach. There are worse places to go and re-evaluate your life.

I've always loved the sea and enjoyed swimming in it when the weather's warm enough. Of course, "Warm enough" is very much a matter of opinion. Before last year, I'd only ever swum in the summer, on the kind of days in which I could happily sit out in a tee shirt all day. But then a few years ago, I started hearing about the reputed benefits of cold water for mental health, and I got curious. Living so close to the sea, it was practical to have a five minute dip in the sea then go straight home for a warm shower and a cup of tea. I wouldn't even have to get changed on the beach.

Before venturing into icy waters, I spent a fair amount of time browsing the internet, as you do. Regarding the benefits, there are plenty of anecdotal reports, but I couldn't find much in the way of scientific research. Still, the anecdotes were compelling enough to make me want to try. There are risks as well, of course, and I'd recommend The Outdoor Swimming Society as a good source of information, neither evangelical about the benefits, nor alarmist about the risks. The main safety rule I stick to is never to swim on an outgoing tide. If I get into trouble and can't swim back to shore, I want the sea to wash me in not out.

I took my first dip in late March of last year: About five minutes in the sea before rushing back to the flat for a shower and a hot cup of tea. Getting into the water was as cold as you'd expect, but even in the short time I was in, I got past the initial shock and it stopped feeling unpleasant. I think this must be because I've swum in cold-ish water quite a lot over the years, so my body's fairly used to acclimatising.

What I hadn't expected was quite how much of a buzz I'd get afterwards. I was bouncing off the walls! It wasn't just the triumph of having survived, or the relief of being warm again, but a genuine positive glow. I'd read about this sort of thing, but didn't expect to experience it until I'd been in a few times, at least, and got used to the cold water. Again, I think this must have been because I was a moderately experienced sea-swimmer before I started.

After that, of course I went in at every opportunity. There were quite a lot of reasons for not going in, particularly the weather. Rain wasn't so much of a problem as the wind - it's one thing to be cold in the water, but getting out into an icy blast is something else again. Don't ask me why, it's just different. Also, a strong wind makes the waves much more dangerous. I love playing in the waves, but there's a point at which they just knock me over and it's no fun any more.

After getting very cold, it does take a lot of energy to warm up again. For this reason, some people recommend cold-water swimming for weight loss. I'm not particularly interested in that, I just have to be aware that I'm going to be completely wiped out after a dip at this time of year.

As well as waves, other dangers include jellyfish, of which there are many on this coast. I'm pretty wary of swimming when there are lots, and I've got away without being stung. That said, the other day I completely ignored reports of Portuguese man o' war currently in the area. I got away with it.

I haven't swum as much this year, largely because a 15 mile drive makes it a lot less convenient, especially during lockdown, when we weren't supposed to travel more than five miles from home. After all these negative points, you might be wondering by now why I bother. The short answer is, it feels amazing. Quite apart from the psysiological reaction to the cold, there's the sheer beauty of being immersed in the vastness of the sea. Often, there's also a sunset, to top it off.

Borth sunset

Comments (18)

    1. rseabrook:
      Dec 02, 2020 at 06:23 PM

      Thanks, Terry. Glad you enjoyed it.

      Reply

  1. Viv Eden:
    Dec 02, 2020 at 06:31 PM

    I haven't done this since my teens when I'd quite often swim in the sea in December. I can't remember how it felt, after all I was young. Tempted though after reading your blog.

    Reply

    1. rseabrook:
      Dec 02, 2020 at 06:33 PM

      Go on, you know you want to!

      Reply

  2. Rebecca Olds:
    Dec 02, 2020 at 06:48 PM

    Interesting read. Maybe I should try this. Especially as it's so convenient. Do I need to actually swim? As in, proper technique? I've never learned. I've got good sense about being near the sea - I just don't tend to get in it. Can I just submerge myself and move around for a while? I'll go check out the Outdoor Swimming Society website...

    Reply

    1. rseabrook:
      Dec 02, 2020 at 08:08 PM

      No, actual swimming is far from essential. I often do no more than a few strokes, and just bob about in the waves, mostly. If you're not a confident swimmer you should stay well within your depth - the sea can pull you about, so you want to be sure you can walk back if needed.

      Reply

      1. Rebecca Lynn Olds:
        Dec 02, 2020 at 08:33 PM

        Cool. I was raised to respect water and I'm obsessed with the tides here. ;-)

        Reply

        1. rseabrook:
          Dec 02, 2020 at 08:47 PM

          I share your obsession!

          Reply

  3. Elaine:
    Dec 02, 2020 at 06:48 PM

    Nothing comes close to swimming in the sea does it. Have you considered a wetsuit to help combat the cold, or would that kill the Buzz?

    Reply

    1. rseabrook:
      Dec 02, 2020 at 08:10 PM

      I have considered a wetsuit. It does nothing to reduce the initial cold shock, but it would increase the amount of time I could stay in. The part I like least is getting changed afterwards, and that would be more effort with a wetsuit, so that puts me off a bit.

      Reply

      1. Elaine:
        Dec 03, 2020 at 08:43 AM

        Lara and the boys do some surfing and have dry robes for afterwards, which they swear by. These days the best I can manage is a paddle:)

        Reply

        1. rseabrook:
          Dec 03, 2020 at 04:49 PM

          Those dryrobes look great! I've seen people using towelling ponchos, which look pretty good, too. I've been meaning to make myself one from old towels, but never quite get round to it.

          Reply

  4. Paul campbell:
    Dec 02, 2020 at 07:03 PM

    You’re braver than I am. I would love to live near the sea so I could go relax near it but I live 60 miles from the nearest coastline which is Leigh on sea. The website is looking good too

    Reply

    1. rseabrook:
      Dec 02, 2020 at 08:12 PM

      Thanks :-)
      I grew up in the midlands, so I can relate to that. I used to think that living near the sea would make it less special, but I haven't got used to it yet.

      Reply

  5. Anneli:
    Dec 02, 2020 at 07:43 PM

    Very well written piece ????! One can nearly feel every feeling about the dip what you describe. You are so brave! I’m from nation where some members sometimes practice jumping through the hole in the ice on a lake just after running out of steaming sauna .... not me ???? not that brave. And it’s great that you were so brave and that you wrote your experience down. Really, well done!

    Reply

    1. rseabrook:
      Dec 02, 2020 at 08:13 PM

      Thank you, you're too kind! xxx

      Jumping through a hole in the ice might be a bit much even for me! I'd be scared of going underneath and not being able to find the hole again!

      Reply

      1. Anneli Truu:
        Dec 05, 2020 at 06:29 AM

        Haha, no it realli is quite a big hole. You can search for russian ice (hole) swimming, probably will get more video examples than if would look for estonian ones ????.

        Reply

        1. rseabrook:
          Dec 09, 2020 at 07:08 PM

          I looked, and most of the search results were from Finland. Some of the ice holes were big enough not to be scary...

          Reply






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