The OSS pledge to embrace the rejuvenating effects of cold water is a valuable mindset change for any open water swimmer. At first it may seem inconvenient that British waters are not warmer, but you may soon find you’re addicted to the fresh feeling of natural water.
The good news is that it’s relatively easy to acclimatise yourself to water temperatures in the UK, by nothing more complicated than swimming regularly in them.
The human body acclimatises to cold water so well that hundreds of swimmers cross the channel every year (at around 16 degrees, for 10 hours or more, an untrained swimmer would get hypothermia), and a few swimmers (most notably Lynne Cox and Lewis Pugh) have even trained themselves to swim in the polar regions. This has led to the Ice Mile event, where swimmers take on a mile in water at 5℃ or lower. Such feats require expert knowledge and training and are potentially extremely dangerous, but it is possible.
Getting yourself into a situation where you enjoy summer swimming, particularly if you’re prepared to start out with a wetsuit, should not take long.
Much of the acclimatisation process is mental – knowing the moment of immersion will feel cold, and embracing it anyway.
Don’t jump in unless you’re acclimatised. Sudden exposure to cold water results in the gasp reflex which causes you to inhale. If you’re beneath the surface when that happens you will breathe water in. This can be followed by uncontrollable hyperventilation.
Get in slowly, and keep your feet on the bottom while you wet your hands and face. Wait for your breathing to come under control before you start to swim.
If you do jump in, breathe in first and exhale as you hit the water. Shrieking, grunting and fwaw-fwaw-fwawing for your first strokes are perfectly natural accompaniments to a wild swim.
The pleasure of open water might not be immediate. Give your body a little time to react, and soon your circulation will start charging around and you’ll feel alive.
Don’t just jump in and think about how it feels, as the answer is likely to be ‘cold’, even unpleasant (particularly in wetsuits, where the expectation of warmth makes the cold dribble in around the zip particularly cruel). Set your intention (to swim to x), and then get in and do it. You’ll feel good once you get moving.