Once upon a time, not so long ago, I was the one saying “I’d love to swim outdoors but brrrr the water must be freezing”.
Well back in 2018 I decided that I was never going to give wild swimming a go without a wetsuit, so off I went and bought one. I was totally open in saying that if I really didn’t like it I would just sell the wetsuit and be absolutely content knowing I had given wild swimming a decent go.
I took myself off to a well organised swim in a local reservoir – safety kayaks and spotters present. They clearly could tell I was fairly nervous. I’m not a strong swimmer and can only do breaststroke, so the kayaker stayed with me most of the time – and we had a lovely chat too. I can’t say that time, or the next few times I swam outside were entirely without nerves and anxiety – breathing when you are in cold water gets interesting and I struggle to keep calm – but I went back, and started to enjoy it. I totalled up about 6 swims in 2018. Not much. But enough to confirm I didn’t need to sell the wetsuit.
Rolling into 2019 I decided that I needed to be courageous and set myself the target of at least one outdoor swim in each calendar month. I’d heard that regular cold water immersion gets you adjusted to the water, but probably needed to be a bit more often than once a month. But hey, it was a start.
In January we swam in the sea while visiting family on the Isle of Wight.
In February I had a mini dip with friends. It was beautiful and sunny but the water was very cold, maybe only 9 or 10 degrees.
March came with cold weather and I put off my swim until the very last day. I swam solo (Tim was on the bank) and pushed myself to do 10 mini ‘lengths’ probably equivalent to a pool width each. As soon as I got home I ordered thicker gloves – it was just my hands that were so cold and forced me to get out.
April 21st and a local swim with the water temperature about 13/14 degrees C. Later in the month I was away in the Lake District and took my swimming kit where I was joined by a friend for a short swim/splash in Lake Windermere.
The water temperature was warming up and in May I swam six times. On all but one of these times I did the main swim with my wetsuit on but then took it off and got back in for ever increasing swim-dips in just a swimsuit. Towards the end of the month I made a brave decision to head to the water without my wetsuit. With just swimsuit plus neoprene gloves and socks/boots I got in…very slowly….and to my surprise I stayed in and swam for half an hour. My watch reckoned the water was 18 degrees C. To say I was buzzing is an understatement.
In June I swam 11 times. We’ve been to the coast again and swum in the sea, and we popped to another local reservoir for a swim in a new location.
In July I have totalled 11 swims including 3 new locations and each time this month I’ve been in without my wetsuit. It’s getting easier and I’m getting braver.
Throughout my journey from ‘I’ll never do that’ to ‘wow I really like this’ I feel like I’ve grown in confidence with each swim. I’ve learnt to do my own thing and not feel like I need to keep up with others or do what they want to do. Familiarity with putting the gear on and how to get warm afterwards with clothing choices has got easier with time. Once I’m settled in the water (especially when I swim without my wetsuit) I find myself in an almost trance like state as I swim each stroke. To me it’s become a form of meditation. I’ve loved sharing the journey with friends and meeting new people. Wild swimming brings me joy and if I’d never been brave last year I wouldn’t have discovered this magical thing.
Disclaimer: please note that I am very careful about outdoor/wild swimming. I never swim alone, and nearly always use a tow-float so I can rest. Acclimatising to cold water swimming is a very individual journey, and with each swim I assess the location, weather, and how I’m feeling before deciding what I’ll do – a flexible approach is very wise. The same water two days running can feel totally different if it’s a bit more windy one day, or more overcast, or if there’s been rain. The Outdoor Swimming Society has lots of useful information so head to their website if you’re thinking of giving wild swimming a go.