As a surfer of over thirty years, a wetsuit is my preferred coating for my vastly pale, and often out of shape body. I think I'd previously mentioned that my wife does say I look like and egg cup in a wetsuit, but for this challenge, and for me personally and to follow those who swim before me; no rubber is allowed. A pair of shorts, a towel, woolly hat, a few thick layers of warm clothes and a hot flask of tea. Simple kit list.
Wild Swimming, Sea Swimming, Cold Water Immersion, whatever it's is... it's cold in there and this is not the tropics. Even in the height of summer with the Gulf Stream in full flow, I reckon I might surf once or twice a year in board shorts or even a short wetsuit. In fact when I qualified as a beach lifeguard many years ago, I did learn that at anytime in the British Isles we are immersing ourselves in hyporthermic temperatures. I seem to recall and please correct me, but anything below 18 Degrees centigrade was potentially cold enough to cause the onset of hyperthermia. So cold water swimming with no wetsuit seems sensible.
The end of March/April we went into Lockdown with COVID19 and this seemed a perfect time to begin my Cold water Immersion Therapy Journey. A quick dip every other day seemed logical. The mental and physical benefits of cold water immersion on well-being is well documented with numerous books and some beautiful films, one of which I've posted below, but my reasons for embarking on this challenge set by my darling wife are as follows, and my unqualified research and personal observations over the past few weeks support these reasons......
Firstly, It releases 'Happy Hormones'.....That's Dopamine and can raise levels by 530% and also beta-endorphin and noradrenaline. never heard of them, nor have I, but quite simply they are the 'Feel Good' chemicals in our brain. Put simply, the combination of these wonderful natural drugs, makes you feel great. I have already experienced the post swim high, and this I have witnessed most days in my wife's experience of early morning dips.
Secondly, there is also the connection with nature. Something, I am passionate about whether riding my bikes, being in the woods, walking or surfing, I love being outdoors. Again the green and blue gyms are hugely documented now, so I'm not going to break any new field of research on this one, but what I will say is that swimming in the ocean feels completely different to surfing in the ocean. This connection might have something to do with not wearing rubber and having the water directly on your skin and the benefits of the salt water. The more time I can spend in the cold water, the more time I have to appreciate just where I am in the world, not just a harbour with aan RNLI boat house above me. On a surfboard, most of the time your paddling, or sitting on a board, which is the peaceful bit, riding an actual wave is such a tiny percentage of the experience and I think a lot of people might be missing that point.
I did swim in my birthday suit last year at a well known, but difficult to access local beach where others gather to strip off and not be judged, we just went down and thought 'when in Rome', and that was another level again in connection. In fact five years ago, whilst running an empowerment project, I took a dip in a Dartmoor river after a very hot day of work in Plymouth. We were heading to Fingle Forest to spend the night with our friends who have a project in the woods nearby. We found Fingle Bridge and I stripped off, my colleague also building the courage; and I just laid there, the water running over the previously mentioned pale and mostly out of shape body. I have never felt so cleansed by water as I did that day, and a visit I shall be making again when we are allowed to travel, after this COVID19 situation.
But to return to the point of connection with nature and not naked swimming, there seems to be something in this new found desire to dip my nuts in freezing cold water, and swim around feeling the burn. It does feel like your skin is burning with cold, but then you get this warm feeling hitting your core. Can I describe this? Probably not, it must really be felt, but it's a great sensation.
Before you experience this surreal warmth though, you have to get in. You have to build up the motivation, and put aside the thought of getting cold and focus on the post swim happiness, the rush of natural drugs man!! Seriously though, the first time I went in I thought my plums had fallen off, my breath was a little fast, but I knew what to expect so managed by breathing by calming myself and focusing on a mellow rhythm, as panic leads to accidents. Since lockdown began, I've been in a few times and it's getting easier, we have been safe and not swam in the open ocean, only in waist depth or in our local harbour, or protected rock pool. I've also not been on my own, always with my wife, and we are both experienced surfers so understand the currents and tides and to be honest I'm in there a matter of a couple of minutes right now. But it is getting easier, an it is becoming addictive and the combination of nature and those natural drugs....I'm hooked man!!
I could go write for ages, about physical and mental benefits, and I feel them everyday day I go in. This period of lockdown has been selfishly eye opening, I believe those of us who have embraced this period wholeheartedly will have no regrets when we return to work. Cold water swimming, immersion, or just plain swimming in the sea in a pair of shorts, whatever you want to call it, is becoming something I think about quite a bit, in fact as I write this I'm thinking about where to swim today, in what rock pool, shall we ride there or walk, what tide, it's a great feeling. If you don't believe me, then watch the film below, and when you do decide then make sure you go in safely and with advice from experienced swimmers.
This is the trailer but you find the full version on Vimeo. It's a thought inspiring film.