On January 1, my sister-in-law and I decided we were going to ignore every excuse we had and jump in the cold Salish Sea. It was -2 degrees outside and we had to walk through three inches of snow to get to the water, but we weren’t letting that stop us. New year, new resolve. We were going to get started with the right foot forward this year, even if mother nature wasn’t on our side.
Two years ago I set a resolution that I was going to train myself to swim in the ocean year round. It took me two years to the day to be able to jump in the cold water in the wintertime (well, not jump… I slowly walk, but that’s beyond the point) and finally getting in the winter water felt like a huge accomplishment.
I know what you’re thinking though.
Why on earth would I CHOOSE to go into nearly freezing water and then stay there? Am I crazy?! And I might be, but there are also very practical reasons behind the choice.
The main practical reasons was simply the fact that I usually live on a sailboat that sails cold waters. The #1 cause of death in Pacific Northwest waters is hypothermia and the thought of dying simply because I didn’t properly know how to survive in my own environment sounded absurd to me. So, I decided to learn to cold water swim. I had heard of people falling off of boats and surviving for prolonged periods just because of being able to control their breathing while in the cold water. Regardless of the cold, they could keep their bodies warm long enough to be rescued and saved without serious injury related to the cold. I wanted that security.
This was my main motivation, but cold water swimming, even in the first couple of weeks of regularly doing so, has shown great benefits I didn’t expect. I have spent most of my life hating the cold and not having the ability to be anything but miserable in temperatures below 15 degrees, even when wrapped in multiple layers of clothing. However, I am currently down to one wool sweater instead of three in 5 degree weather. I can even do outdoor activities for an hour without getting cold and wanting to go home, even when the weather is freezing. And the best part? How these things will translate into more freedom with life on a sailboat in Canada!
But really, none of this should have been a surprise to me. People all around the world have cold water swam since time immemorial. In the Pacific Northwest, bathing in a cold river is a cultural and spiritual practice of many First Nations. In Europe, people cold water swim as tradition all over Scandinavia and Russia. Even today there are swimming clubs all over the British Isles where people gather to cold water swim on a weekly or daily basis. Cold water swimming is good for our bodies, our minds and our connection to nature and our ancestors and people from many cultures in cold climates have known this for a very long time. Cold water swimming has been proven to lower inflammation in the body, increase blood flow, decrease stress levels and boost immune systems among other benefits.
There are risks to cold water swimming as well, such as hypothermia and shock to the body if you don’t use proper breathing techniques or listen to your body, so it is highly recommended to do some research on techniques ahead of jumping in. Once you feel confident that you are safe and have a proper technique, the benefits of getting in the cold water definitely make the initial shock worthwhile — for most of us anyway.
So what about you? Is cold water swimming something you do, or want to do? If you would like to see it in practice, we have a couple of videos of us cold water swimming on our YouTube channel Wayward Life Sailing and we have a “learning to cold water swim” video coming up in the future. We would love to also hear your stories from dipping in the cold water!
Taryn, Logan & Max travel BC’s West Coast aboard their boat Papa Rumba. Visit Wayward Life Sailing for more!