Cold Water Swimming,  NEWS

A letter from Ram Barkai, IISA Founder and Chair

IISA Founder and Chair, Ram Barkai looks back on the successes of the Fifth World Championship held in Samoëns, France this January – and shares his visions for the IISA over the next few years. 

It’s been 14 years since the International Ice Swimming Association (IISA) was founded and the term ‘Ice Swimming’ – swimming unassisted in water temperature of 5ºC (41F) with only a silicon cap, goggles and standard swimming costume – was first coined. Now, following the success of the Fifth World Championship in Samoëns, France this January, Founder and Chair Ram Barkai is setting out his vision for the future of the IISA. 

“It was great to see so many of you at the World Championship in Samoëns, France,” writes Ram Barkai, in a recent letter to IISA followers. “It’s been one and a half years of planning and organisation to get to those four days of swimming. This post-Covid era threw up a lot of challenges.

“Yet, we managed to get 465 swimmers from 42 countries. Nineteen world records were broken in the ‘overall open’ category and seven world records were broken in the ‘overall para’ category. 

“It is our first official World Championships where we recognise all short distances as well for world record purposes. So many of the records are new records. It will be harder in the next event to repeat this. However, we are growing rapidly, with faster and younger athletes coming to the ICE.”

A renewed focus on four main areas

Since its foundation in 2009, the IISA has powered ahead with its vision of formalising swimming in icy water. It has established a comprehensive set of rules for maximum safety measures in this extreme sport and to regulate swim integrity in terms of distance, time, conditions and safety. It has also set worldwide swim records, and has IISA members in 73 countries and Ice Swimmers [1km+] in 43 countries. 

The association has grown remarkably in the past few years. And along with it, Ram writes, has his vision for the IISA grown and expanded. Going forward, the IISA will focus on four main areas: adventures, competitions, education and research. 


IISA’s current adventures include the Ice Mile: swimming one mile in water of 5C or less; the ICE 7s, ice swimming’s equivalent of the Oceans Seven marathon swimming challenge, in which participants complete an Ice Mile (ratified by IISA) in each of the seven continents; the Ice Triple Crown, a ratified Ice Mile in North America, Europe and Africa; Ice Zero, which is an ice mile completed in water temperature of below 1ºC (33.8F); and the Extreme Ice Mile, a higher risk Ice Mile attempted with extra risk factors such as water temperature below 2ºC, wind chill of 15ºC or lower, over 2km distance, a swim time of 45 mins and over, or an altitude of 2,440m or higher.

Another area, which is not part of IISA yet but is growing rapidly, is the Ice Swimming Adventures trips. In 2023-24 Ram is organising trips to: Svalbard (August 2023), where participants will be able to attempt a polar Ice Mile; Mongolia (October 2023), with a swim in Lake Khovgol; and Antarctica 2024 (now fully booked but with places for short-distance swims and support). 


Describing the recent championships as “an Olympic spirit event”, Ram also shared his vision of one day taking the Ice Swimming to the Winter Olympic Games. 

“This is a dream I believe will happen, but I am not sure when and how,” he writes. “Ice Swimming is a disruptive sport in a very established world of sports. It has been challenged and ridiculed as a mad extreme trend for years. Only now it is starting to get serious attention as a new growing serious sport. 

“My main challenge is to make sure it is not going to become a business per se and that we manage to keep that electric spirit of a community working together and helping each other fulfil their dreams.

“We are looking to make some changes in this area, by broadening the age group scope and narrowing the qualifications for the elite swimmers, to attract the best in Ice Swimming. This will allow us to relax some of the criteria for age group participants. We are working on bringing back the Ice Word Cup series next season.”


The IISA realises that education is becoming an integral part of their journey. They already offer a Level One Observer Course and a Level Two Event Organiser Course, and they plan to launch an international level IISA event organiser course. Currently, they are exploring establishing workshops and conferences to spread their experience in Ice Swimming gained over the past 15 years. 

“A lot is happening in the cold water area,” says Ram. “Some trends, some recreational, some business initiatives and a lot of enthusiasm. Ice Swimming has become a household name from a 10-second dip in an ice hole, or a splash in a cold sea or river, or swimming in cold to icy waters. It is our responsibility to transfer our knowledge for others to understand Ice Swimming, to respect it and learn to swim in it responsibly.”


IISA are looking to expand their work with the medical fraternity, rescue services and others to understand more about what Ice Swimming does to our bodies. “Like any extreme sport, the more one understands the medium of the sport the safer and further one can go,” writes Ram. 

The IISA will be looking for help and involvement with these four strategic pillars, and Ram invites people to get in touch to discuss their motivation, background and interest in adding value to the sport. 

Read more about the Fifth World Championship held in Samoëns, France, in the February edition of Outdoor Swimmer. Find out more about Ice Swimming and IISA via their website or email for enquiries relating to upcoming trips.

Stay up to date with The Dip, our free weekly outdoor swimming newsletter.

Jo is the Gear Editor for Outdoor Swimmer and also writes news and features for the website. A keen open water swimmer and long-distance walker, she loves seeking out lakes and lidos close to her home in the Mendip Hills, Somerset. She is the author of The Slow Traveller, editor and founder of independent magazine, Ernest, and has previously tested outdoor clothing and kit for BBC Countryfile Magazine, BBC Focus and Ernest Journal.