Christmas & New Year’s Day Swim Advice

With Christmas coming, many of you who would never consider getting in cold water will be thinking of a Christmas or New Year’s Day dip.

I’ll be down at the Guillamenes myself as usual, with the hundreds of people who never normally go near the sea.

So I thought some advice wouldn’t be wasted.

* Cold is a skill not a talent. It can be learned. But if your first cold swim is Christmas Day, you won’t do it on that day. So instead plan & know what to expect.


* If it’s an irregular visit, your most important pre-swim action to make sure you know where to exit the water safely. Do not rely on the wisdom of crowds. Many of the people near you will know nothing.

* Watch the water before you get it. Regardless of the amount of people in it, if the water is breaking or surging more than about 3 feet, on steps, rocks or a ladder, the exit will be difficult, dangerous or impossible.

* If you have been drinking heavily the night before, don’t do it. Alcohol seriously impairs the body’s ability to deal with cold. The same applies if you haven’t slept the night before.

* Put your togs on *before* you go to the sea. You will spend less time getting cold before you swim.

* Make sure you have: a swim hat (silicone or neoprene preferably). If you only have latex, wear a few hats; a towel; goggles. And plenty of warm clothes for afterwards. Including a hat and gloves. Warm clothes is many light layers rather than a few heavy ones.

* Bring sandals or deck shoes.

* Bring something to stand on while changing. A spare towel, a piece of cardboard, a car mat.

* Forget grease. It does nothing for cold protection and you won’t in long enough to worry about chafing. If you are in that long, you need none of my advice.

* Neoprene (wetsuit) gloves and booties will significantly reduce the discomfort if you are not used to it.


* Take the clothes on your lower body off first. Keep your torso & body warm for longer.

* Change as close to the water as you safely can. You want to reduce the time exposed before and after swimming.

* Wear the sandals as close to the edge as you can. The ground will be colder than the sea. Cold = numb = lacerations = lots of blood.

* DO NOT STAND AROUND TALKING once you are changed. Get to the water.

* IT”S NORMAL TO BE NERVOUS. Your body is adapted to avoid cold. Just be positive. Accept the increased heart rate. Tell yourself you are a swimming god.

* It’s not a competition. Depending on your location there may be lots of people who don’t know what they are doing in the water that day. There will be 100s at my regular spot, whereas yesterday there was just me. Stay clear and watch everything. Move carefully.

* SPLASH WATER on your face before immersion. This indicates to your body extreme cold is coming (by which I include temperatures of up to 12C/55F). It will allow your heart rate to settle quicker.

* Just as you get in..tell yourself it’s warm It doesn’t matter if you hear the sound of certain external body parts rapidly shrinking.

* Cold is about attitude. Tell yourself it’s actually better than you thought. Hell, it’s almost warm. I was worried about this?

* DO NOT DIVE IN. Just don’t do it. I don’t care how tough you think you are. Unless you are a very experienced cold water swimmer this is a dumb thing to do. It causes heart attacks and rock impacts. But don’t stand there trying to get in either. Walk in to your waist. Splash the water. Then off you go. No more than 1 minute getting immersed.


* Without experience it is difficult to get the face into cold water. This is normal.

* Cold stimulates the gasp reflex through increased heart rate. It makes breathing difficult. This is also normal.


* Change your breathing pattern to head above water or breathing every stroke or 2nd stroke.

* Without experience expect your heart rate to take many minutes to settle.


* HAVE A GREAT TIME. Feel like a hero. Do 10 metres. Or 20 or 50 or 500. It won’t kill you.


* Watch your exit. Be careful. It is at this point most lacerations occur on the feet, legs and hands.

* Get your sandals on and get to your clothes.

* If the temperature is below 10C, expect sharp pain in your face, hands and especially feet. Your skin will be tingling all over your body. You will go from pain to numbness. There is no in-between.


* AFTER-DROP is dangerous. You have only a few minutes before its onset. After-drop is the body temperature dropping after you exit the water. It’s not a problem if you are only in a couple of minutes though unless it’s less than 5C (40F).


* Dry the torso first. Dress the torso.

* Then put on a hat.

* Then the lower body.

* Then have your chat, your hot chocolate or soup.

FEEL GREAT, job well done!

Go home and stuff yourself, secure in the knowledge you are hard-core.


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