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‘Better than banging your head against a brick wall’

Not all of us have the opportunity to take part in a ‘novice to ice swimmer’ programme like that launched for the Ireland Ice Swimming Championships. Indeed, not all of us even want to swim an ice mile. But if you want to join the increasing number of swimmers choosing to swim outdoors through the winter, safe acclimatisation is key.

Luckily, more and more open water venues are choosing to stay open through the winter. Most lidos are unheated; some, if you want to cheat a little, are gently heated. And a growing number of watersports lakes are also extending their swimming seasons. Some venues don’t allow swimming without wetsuits, so check before setting out. See ourVenues page for a comprehensive list of open water swimming venues.
The big question for many is: why would you want to leap into freezing water when there are plenty of comfortably heated indoor pools? Some say it boosts your immune system, gives you a natural high and alleviates depression. 91% of respondents in a survey commissioned by South London Swimming Club said it was “better than banging your head against a brick wall.”
Many cold water swimmers also enjoy the camaraderie of the sport. There are clubs all around the country that swim throughout the year – some in lidos and some in open water. One such club is Open Water Clubs, a relatively new initiative designed to encourage grass roots participation in open water swimming. Tom Kean, co-founder of Open Water Clubs, says that one of the best ways to acclimatise to cold water is simply to keep swimming through the seasons: “My best advice is to start swimming in the summer, then keep going for as long as you can. That way you gradually increase your exposure to the cold as autumn arrives and temperatures fall away.”
Swimming with a group is safer, and membership of a club will find you swimming with like-minded people. Advances in neoprene mean even less-robust types can still take part, even if ‘skins’ swimming in 1 degree Celsius water is beyond you. Open Water Clubs started in 2014 in the Thames valley and is now being rolled out across the country. Says Kean: “A positive mental attitude is also critical, as much of the worry is in the mind. Our clubs have safety as the driving force in all we do, so you’ll be well guided”.
And once you are acclimatised, you can cast off your neoprene and join in the fun at the growing number of cold water swimming events taking place around the world, such as the Chill Swim event this weekend at Windermere in the UK.
For more on Open Water Clubs, see the current issue of H2Open magazine