Ball gowns on the beach for the finale of this year’s Frostbite Challenge

To celebrate the third year of Julie Harrington’s Frostbite Challenge, 35 “biters” braved the cold at Lulworth Cove wearing finery inspired by a “Ball Gowns on the Beach, Tuxedos with the Tide” fancy dress theme.

On Sunday 3 March, 35 “biters” and spectators braved the cold to celebrate the end of the third Frostbite Challenge. This year, the theme was “Ball Gowns on the Beach, Tuxedos with the Tide”. 

“The swim marked the end of another wonderful winter of icy dips, quick plunges, and suntan red skin!” says organiser Julie Harrington. “And those who wished to donned their glad rags, popped on their finery and paraded along the beach at Lulworth Cove in some unexpected sunshine.”

The Frostbite Challenge invites swimmers (known as “biters”), to complete 12 dips between the beginning of November and the end of February. They must do at least one swim in each month, so there’s no avoiding the colder months – and for fun, people try to swim in a river, a lake and the sea.

Julie launched the first Frostbite Challenge in 2020 with the aim of raising money for CLIC (now Young Lives vs Cancer) and to support peoples’ mental health over the winter months, especially those who often swim alone. She expected around 30 other swimmers would sign up; this year 150 people joined from all over the UK. 

Creating a supportive community

To make the challenge inclusive, there aren’t many rules; you can swim in skins or a wetsuit, and there are no set times. “I started the Frostbite Challenge when I decided to do the Polar Bear Challenge [run under the clothing rules of the International Ice Swimming Association, meaning only swimsuits, swim hat and goggles are allowed] but realised it was quite strict and I wanted a challenge that was more inclusive,” says Julie. 

Now in its third year, the Frostbite Challenge has raised nearly £30,000 for various charities so far, with swimmers paying £15 to join. But Julie says it’s not just about raising money: “It’s about creating a kind and supportive community and encouraging each other.”

“I wanted to raise some money for charity after my son was diagnosed with cancer, while also creating a kind and supportive community to help us all with our mental health,” she says. “The Frostbite community has been so wonderful and I get such wonderful messages of love!”

This third year saw an extra icy element. The ICE (Ingrid’s Challenge Extraordinary) dared biters to do something they would not usually do, such as an ice swim or a skinny dip. “The ICE challenge was in memory of Ingrid Fuchs, a dear friend of specialist breast cancer nurses Caroline Radford and Angie Nicholson, who lost their friend to breast cancer last year. The money raised was donated to Dorothy House, which cared for Ingrid.”

Fancy signing up to the Frostbite Challenge in November 2023? Join the Facebook group or follow their Instagram to find out more. 

School Chaplain Sami Watts shares her journey to open water swimming and her experience of taking on the Frostbite Challenge.

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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.