As soon as it is winter in the beautiful, exotic Emerald Isle, the adventure bug bites again and a hardy network of sea-swimmers and lake-swimmers set out for mad fun in the water. In what is globally acclaimed now, they participate in winter swimming extravaganzas, all winter long.
Amidst the frenzy, a plunge in the chilly winter weather ideally leaves them with a profound physical and mental quietude. Many believe it has lasting therapeutic effects. And as addictive as the thrill is, the increasing number of Irish sea-swimmers is a testament to just how fun and invigorating winter swimming always gets.
Ask any local and you will be astounded to learn how popular the annual winter dip is. It is an Irish tradition that happens everywhere; Salthill, Dublin’s Sandycove, the Forty Foot, Seapoint, Achill, Mullingar, everywhere!
But you should always watch out!
Swimming in the winter is life-affirming and exhilarating, no doubt. However, in this cold water paradise, there’s always a risk of hypothermia, frostbites, and even death.
In fact, just because Ireland is the winter swimming capital of the world, it does not mean that there is no need to exercise caution while braving its punishing waters. Winter water safety is key to having the best experience throwing oneself into the icy waters. Never swim alone!
Wear bouyancy aid, wetsuit or winter swimming gear
At the height of Irish winter in November, December & January temperatures can drop very low. Such conditions can easily result in hypothermia and even death. And unless you have mitts and a skull cap, heavier base layers, or a dry suit, or indeed are used to and experienced with these temperatures, don’t attempt to dive in. If you are not experienced or aware of how the cold can take your breath away it can lead to panic and shock. Which is dangerous and best avoided.
You can choose a wetsuit if you feel more comfortable with them. However, a swimsuit should be perfect if you really want to feel the charm of the cold temperatures. Have a wool hat over your skullcap to keep your head warm and wetsuit socks and gloves to help protect you from frostbites.
Also it is always best practice to wear bouyancy aids, this goes without saying.
This, of course can be dependant on how used to the cold water you are. There are many all year round dippers that build up their tolerance and are able to withstand the temperature in the depths of winter. We are moreso addressing the people who might be new to winter water or who are not aware of what the cold can do to you if you are not prepared. I myself, LOVE, to swim/dip all through winter. I feel so many direct benefits from it that we will go into in another post. But I am accustomed to the cold and know my limits and can control it. I have ice cold showers each morning of the year without fail and this helps with my awareness of what the cold does and also my tolerance to it.
Winter sea-swimming in Ireland is extremely safe, so long as you choose a safe spot. Winter often makes the sea rough, but you’ve got to know how to enjoy it. One simple safety tip you must remember, therefore, is to understand how to read a riptide and stay off its way.
Other than that, always avoid going out of your depth. If you are sea-swimming, or in a lake, river, pool, or pond, steer clear of rocky, steep-sided areas. Don’t swim in a seaweed-filled area as well. It’s always great to find someone to accompany you on your swimming expeditions.
Know when to get in and when to get out
Winter dips are heavenly – but only if you know how to do them. To get in, first, get in on your knees and wade your way into the middle where the waters are calm. Slide-out for the water to get to your chest, relax a sec, and jump in!
As soon as you are in, have fun swimming amidst the electrifying flash of cold water. However, don’t swim too far – just relax and burn those calories. It is perfectly normal for your arms and legs to start to tingle, as the toes and fingers go pale and numb.
However, it can be risky to brave the chilly waters and stay a bit longer if your body hasn’t been getting exposed to winter temperatures. So, as much as you may listen to your body and tolerate the cold, don’t stay inside for longer than five minutes in your first few weeks of dipping!
Getting out, plus the adrenaline pump that follows soon after is the ultimate prize of sea-swimming. Shivering soon after is OK, but you can have a warm shower or submerge your body in a warm water tube to feel good again.
Put on a few thin layers instead of a single woolen jumper. Above all, enjoy your winter swimming experience. I know you will get addicted to it!
If this is something you would like to pursue, search on social media for local winter swimmers and dippers. There are many groups out there that do this daily and it is a really beneficial activity to get involved in!