Let me be honest. I really feel the cold. Like my hands and feet are always cold. When I put on my regular clothes I have to wear thick boots for 6 months of the year and won’t leave the house without gloves and a hat in winter. So over the last few years when my friends told me about their cold water dips in just swimming togs, I would shake my head and give an involuntary shiver. I loved my toasty 5mm wetsuit and really wasn't sure why I would want to give that up!
Commitment is key
What motivated me this year to really commit to it, was Dee Newell’s Deeswimber challenge to do 20 dips in December raising funds for the Irish Cancer Society. Together with my friend Jessica, we decided we would give it a go and suddenly found ourselves planning our days around the best time to go for a dip – work, kids, school runs, everything was planned out so we could find an hour spare to head to the beach every day. Our local spot is Streedagh in Sligo where we live, it’s a big white sandy beach and if the tide is out, you’re in for a long jog to and from the water.
Committing to the challenge definitely made a difference, even though it was mostly just the two of us and the rest was all online. We went out in any conditions unless it wasn’t safe, whether it was cold, windy, rainy, we were at the beach. I can’t say I’ve ever been outside so much in December and I definitely felt the benefits of being in the water and in nature when normally I would have been indoors.
I also think going every day helped, because we formed a habit. It’s easy to not go for a few days and then it becomes more difficult to get back into it.
The power of cold water
After dipping pretty much every day in December and still frequently dipping now, I finally understand what my friends already knew – cold water immersion is an incredibly powerful booster for the mind and body. Being in the water needs all your focus, there’s no time to worry about anything else, you just have to let go of any thoughts and be present in the here and now. Streedagh is great, because one day it could be completely flat and you can enjoy a quiet swim, the next day you have waves crashing over you and feel like a little kid playing in the whitewater.
Jessica and I have declared our time in the water a no work and no worry zone. We work together so it’s tempting to chat about work then too, but we have our rule and anything work related has to wait until we’re back at the desk afterwards.
Finding your tribe
We mostly went swimming with just the two of us, it’s hard to get schedules to align with all the other things going on, but over the Christmas holidays we had some of the best dips with our friends and family. It was great to share those moments, shouting as we ran into the water and letting go. Something we would have felt self-conscious about when it was just us, felt totally natural when we were with our tribe. Being in a group was great and we always came prepared with cakes and coffee to hang out for a while afterwards. Enjoying the rush of the endorphins together before we headed off to our hot showers.
There are so many open water swimming groups all across Ireland now and from what we’ve seen they are very open towards new people joining them. So if you are looking to find your tribe, I’m sure you won’t have to wait long, you will meet like-minded people at the beach quickly.
You do you
Cold water swimming is not a competition. Just because someone else will go swimming in their togs for 20 minutes, doesn’t mean that you need to do that or should strive to do it. We have a fabulous group here at Streedagh full of hardy people some of whom were easily in the water that kind of extended period, while we spent much less time in the water. It’s about enjoying yourself, doing it for fun and in the end, only you know your limits.
My essential equipment
We went swimming in our togs to be able to feel the cold water on our skin, but I wouldn’t get in the water without my trusty socks and gloves, neoprene and silicone hat and ear plugs. But that’s just me!
I also found out that my changing mat is not just a gimmick – it’s a life saver and the few times I forgot it, it took my toes so much longer to warm up. Standing on the cold sand when getting changed before and after might be possible, but it’s definitely not as comfortable.
Same goes for my poncho towel – I wouldn’t go without and the one time I didn’t have one because it was in the wash, I found myself struggling with a towel. Again, it’s doable, but it’s a lot more enjoyable not to get cold while changing. If you’re dipping every day, a second poncho towel would make sense so you always have one ready to go.
And last but not least, my Robie Dry Series Changing Robe was the best investment I made this winter. I went for a rather big size – I am 5’4 and wear size 8-10 and went with Medium. It goes down below the knees, so my legs never got cold. It has a big hood and lots of pockets for my keys, phone and the handwarmers Jessica gifted me. I wear it on my way to the beach so I’m not cold before I get in and wrap up in it once I’m changed. That way I can really enjoy the hot cuppa afterwards.
Not everyone would like a robe to fit as big as mine does, I’ve written another blog post about how to choose the right changing robe if you’re looking to find the right fit. Or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I always love a chat about this.
Are you swimming throughout the winter? We would love to hear your stories and see your favourite swimming spots. Just tag us on Instagram @surfdock.