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Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Euphoria Of The Cold Water

I read daily about the exploits and euphoria of people who swim in cold water. From Cape Town to Prague, from Sandycove to San Francisco, from Moscow to Melbourne, cold water swimmers have always earned my highest respect. Occasionally, they come out shivering, but inevitably they are smiling.

They espouse the health benefits and psychological wonders of swimming in cold water. They walk into the water, splashing themselves with glee.

Whether the water is defined as absolutely cold (under 5ºC or 41ºF), really cold (under 10ºC to 50ºF), pretty cold (under 15ºC or 59ºF) or any other relative measure, these individuals are mentally strong, physically hardened and, apparently, emotionally enhanced by these cold-water experiences.

But, try as I might, getting out of a warm car and walking down the beach into cold water has never been enjoyable to me. I admit it. It is tough and I do not have the drive to acclimate. Feeling cold is just not enjoyable, no matter what the health benefits are. "The cold water has never really bothered me," explains Bruckner Chase, a regular swimmer in the ocean off the Jersey coast throughout the winter. "I actually enjoy it and it feels invigorating."

Invigorating to these hardened swimmers, but incredibly painful to me. I will take swimming with sharks, in huge ocean swells, in and out of massive surf, against whitecaps, against currents and tides. These are reasonable challenges to me. But voluntarily walking into cold water is simply not enjoyable and there are too many other alternatives to braving the cold. Like eating broccoli as a child or doing your schoolwork on time, I know it is good for me. But it remains a goal, not a reasonable possibility.

If I do swim in the cold, I remain cold for most of the day. Sure I get in a warm shower and put on warm clothes and blast the car heater on the way home, but that deep inner frigidness just never seems to go away. Perhaps it is the undesirable memory of feeling those pins driving into my skin, or the hyperventilation that inevitably occurs, or the inability to stick my head in the water that is branded in my memory banks, but whatever that cold-water residue is, it remains.

So as I watch the cold water swimmers in Laguna Beach or Lake Michigan, Boston or Beijing, Seattle or Sydney tackle the open water under cold conditions, I can only marvel and respect their abilities, motivations and joy in the cold.

Photo shows El Sharko, Christopher Blakeslee of San Francisco.

Copyright © 2012 by Open Water Source

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