Open Water Swimming in Cold Water
Article is provided by contributor Debbie Watts from @JustOneBigAdventure
Let me start by saying that I am no expert in open water swimming, however I have definitely become a huge fan of embracing my fears head on, immersing myself in the chilly depths of local lakes and enjoying the many mental and physical health benefits.
I had long watched others swim in local rivers and heard friends talk of how wonderful it felt, but I put it off until a friend who is perhaps as nutty as I, pushed me to join her. Before I knew it, in the middle of winter a small group of us headed to Buckland Lake and swam in openwater under the supervision of qualified lifeguards at The Surrey Hills Adventure Club. We love it so much we have given ourselves the nickname of the Little Mermaids and we're having JustOneBigAdventure, creating our own swimwear and hoodies.
Throughout our swimming journey we have never underestimated the importance of safety and listening to our bodies. The following list is by no means exhaustive and if you are considering open water swimming, safety is of the upmost importance!
Here's our top tips for Open Water Swimming in Winter.
- Attend an introduction to cold water swimming - find an outdoor swim or swim/run coach. They will help you immerse slowly and teach you a practical open water safety tips
- Do your research. From safety videos to tide/sea/river/weather conditions to risks and benefits of cold-water immersion, RNLI services and identifying safe spots to swim, blog posts and even information on water quality, Blue Tits chill Swimmers have it all
- Go with friends, it's more safe and you'll have a lot of fun. Always ensure someone knows where you are and don't take risks somewhere unknown to you. Chat to locals, find facebook groups and ideally start somewhere that is supervised and has lifeguards present.
- Get the right kit - Initially, you'll most definitely want to keep your head, fingers and toes warm. You lose the most heat of your extremities. Consider buying the right thickness wetsuit socks and gloves. Wear a bright hat to be seen. And if this is your first time, consider a wetsuit to help protect you further.
- Whether you intend to just wear your usual swimwear or you borrow a wetsuit initially, you will want and need to get dressed as quickly as possible afterwards. So, take plenty of warm clothes to change into and have them ready to be put on straight after your swim. Your core body temperature can drop very quickly and it can take up to an hour to warm back up fully if you've been swimming for just 15 minutes, according to Claire Chamberlain. Don't rush warming up either, avoid hot showers or placing your hands on radiators etc. We find a hot waterbottle is a great way to gradually warm up.
- Don't try to be a hero, enter the water very slowly to avoid cold water shock. Pay extra special attention to how you feel and don't push it. If your hands and feet begin to feel too cold or you are shivering, your time is most definitely up. The last thing you want is to develop hypothermia! Know your limits. Your first dip may just be seconds rather than minutes so take the time to gradually build up your time in the water.
- Don't do drink and drugs kids - you need to be operating all cylinders. There's no room for ill-judged decisions.
- If it's your first time and you're new to swimming, don't go out of your depth to start with. Make sure you can touch the bottom and slowly immerse yourself and/or go with other competent swimmers who can support you.
*For inspiration, coaches and more visit The Open water Swimming Group on Facebook and/or https://nowca.org
Author - Debbie Watts