Whether you’re looking to get fit, make new friends or are looking for a more adventurous New Year’s Resolution, why not try cold water swimming? It’ll certainly take your breath away… Ella Foote from the Outdoor Swimming Society tells us why we should all dive in
Can you describe the appeal of swimming outdoors in the colder months?
Swimming is always a mind-altering experience – once you have sunk into the water you are left alone with your thoughts and have time to process them. That is why swimming is so popular – the mental as well as physical benefits. In winter you get an extra zing! While standing on a river bank with frost between your toes might make you question your sanity, once in and tingling you cannot beat the feeling. It is euphoric. There is also something about being outside, despite the shorter, darker and cooler days. We can all agree that enjoying leisure outside is a huge benefit, why should it stop in winter? In fact, you could argue it is even more important – getting fresh air, being with nature and getting daylight is a great way to banish winter blues and bugs.
How does cold water swimming differ from summertime swimming?
The biggest difference is time. Days are shorter so unless you are willing to swim in the dark, which does have a certain appeal, you have to make use of your time wisely. Also the time in the water is shorter too. Whether you swim in a wetsuit or just swimsuit, our ability to swim in the water for long periods of time is reduced. While you can build yourself up to longer swims in cooler water, other weather is a bigger factor. Air temperatures can make a huge difference as well as wind chill and ground frost.
Do you have any tips for first time cold water swimmers?
I would find a group nearby before dipping your toe in for the first time alone. If you join us on Facebook, you can post your location and that you are seeking swimmers and the community will respond. Then it is about building yourself up and acclimatising over winter. If you already swim outdoors and have been through the summer, keep going – that is always the best way to start. If you want to start your outdoor swimming in winter, take your time. On your first visit to your chosen spot, get in slowly and breathe! Take a few strokes and then get out. The next time stay in a little longer. Ensure you have researched where you are swimming (for hazards etc), pack lots of warm layers and a hot drink for after. It is about warming up slowly too from the inside – a hot shower is no good! Make sure you have a good warm hat and put it on as soon as you get out.
Is a wetsuit advisable?
There are plenty of swimmers who swim in just swimsuits in any season, but plenty who wear wetsuits all year round too. Others wear wetsuits during winter months and swimsuits when the water is warmer. It is all about personal choice and preference – whatever gets you in the water! A swim hat is essential in cooler water, keeping your head warm will do wonders. If you are starting out a wetsuit can be a costly expense, but there are plenty of second-hand suits about. We have a Facebook page where members sell on unwanted kit. Booties and gloves can make a difference in cooler water too – being less fleshy can keep out the cold.
Where are the most popular outdoor swimming spots in London?
London’s most popular outdoor swimming spots are mostly lidos. In south London there’s Brockwell Lido and Tooting Bec – both unheated and open through winter. Out of season you will need to join as a member to swim, but it isn’t expensive. Both pools have a strong community of swimmers who swim all year round. Tooting is pretty special because it is so long – 91 metres (100 yards). It hosts the Cold Water Swimming Championships every other year and on Sundays they have races for members. For something more wild, the Hampstead Ponds offer nature and cool water. The mixed pond offers a winter membership, but otherwise the men’s and ladies’ ponds are open all year. The same goes for the Serpentine in Hyde Park. You can join the club and swim throughout winter.
How would you describe the feeling of cold water swimming?
Zing is my favourite word… It’s like every single sense in your body is on overdrive. Sights, smells, taste and sounds are all heightened. It is the most alive I feel. It is wonderful to know what your body is capable of and I am never more in my body than when I am swimming in cold water!