Swimming outdoors in summer is a very pleasant pastime; the water temperatures by September often reach 22 degrees, and the feeling of floating on your back in a vast expanse of water with the sun shining down on you can’t be replicated. So when autumn breathes its chill across the country, lots of swimmers begin to cease swimming outdoors – returning instead to heated indoor pools, which provide warmth and safety, but not the tranquility of outdoor water.
Winter swimming is seen as an activity only for those who are ‘hard as nails’, but that message has been so pervasive that many avid spring and summer swimmers don’t ever try. This is something that I’ve particularly noticed this year, as the London Royal Docks Open Water Swimming (LRDOWS) venue saw numbers drop dramatically from upwards of thirty or so swimmers per session, six days a week during summer, to fewer than ten swimmers per session three times a week. This drop off happened not when the water got cold, but almost spot on the 31st of October, when swimmers felt that continuing would class them as a winter swimmer – perhaps something many don’t believe they’re capable of being.
I find the ‘hardiness’ needed to swim in water around 10 degrees in a wetsuit is much less than commonly acknowledged. Sure, doing it in skins is something to be applauded, but there is much to be done to counteract the biting cold and make the experience much more comfortable – wetsuits, wetsuit thermal layers, booties & gloves all help keep you insulated.
Last Wednesday afternoon, before my 5pm shift at the docks, I put on my wetsuit and swam out a few hundred metres. The sun was setting beautifully over the surrounding buildings. I looked around me and realised that not a soul was within 400m of me; a truly unique sensation for London. The water was cold (around 9/10 degrees) but after five minutes I felt quite comfortable, and rather than heading off to do a session of front crawl, as one might when doing training for an event in the summer, I bobbed about doing a mix of head up breaststroke and just enjoying the buoyancy of my wetsuit by lying on my back and admiring the view. For me, this is what winter swimming is about: it’s not about training, or an opportunity to improve technique – it’s a perfect chance for reflection and calmness. The endorphin rush isn’t bad either, and stuck with me for the rest of the evening.
So if you don’t think you have it in you to be a ‘winter swimmer’ I implore you to try: if you want any guidance or help, let us know. Here at The London Swimming Club, we’re always happy to help in any way we can – whether you're a member of our club or not.