If you are planning on swimming through winter we have the club for you: Zeno’s Swim Club, a virtual online community inspired by the Stoic school of philosophy, where you can share your love of swimming in wind, ice, and stinging rain.
Because you might think that there is nothing that could make swimming in all those weather conditions better.
But you’d be wrong.
There is one thing: other people.
Zeno was the founding father of Stoicism and if we could boil that philosophy down to one simple tenet for swimmers it would be: keep going. When it comes to winter, drop the drama, disengage from the pain, forget waiting for the rain to stop or the wind to be warm. And just keep going.
Swimming outdoors is never just about the swimming – and never more so in winter, when the actual swimming only lasts for minutes. What it is about (among other things) is increasing the number of things you can bear. Mastering the ability to keep your mind still when your body is screaming. Keeping your mouth quiet, when it could be moaning. Choosing discomfort, when you could still be in clothes. And ultimately feeling stronger, braver, clearer and better as a result of it.
So, join the increasing number of people trying it, or doing it, and be strong!
Zeno (of Citium, 334-226 BC) believed the path to happiness is found in accepting the moment as it presents itself. This virtual winter swimming club is a sub set of The Outdoor Swimming Society and, like the OSS, accepts you as you present yourself. There are therefore only two criteria for membership:
As another fine stoic said: ‘It does not matter what you bear, but how you bear it” (Seneca). Nothing teaches calm resilience like getting into really cold water again and again.
Every week during November, and then every month till April, the best winter swimming photo on Instagram with the hashtag #thestoics will win the new Zeno’s Swim Club swim hat. Let your photos tell winter swimming as it is: snow, ice and sunrise are all very heroic as well as stoic, but we’re equally interested in damp, cloud cover and pissing rain. (Our other community hashtags are #outdoorswimmingsociety #sharetheswimlove).
November newsletters will be trace the journeys of some first timers – follow us!
As we write this (31st October 2019) it’s almost a year since Ross Edgley completed his swim around Britain, pulling into Margate on the 4th November surrounded by The Outdoor Swimming Society swimmers. There wasn’t a person in the water that day who wasn’t in awe of his attitude – the marvel of Ross’s Great British Swim turned out not to be the physical feat, but the attitude and warmth of the man who did it. Ross’s book on The Art of Resilience is coming out next year, but if you want to see a modern stoic in action, there is no better way than to immerse yourself in a Great British Swim retrospective.
Swimming in the cold holds risk. These cold risks include, but are not limited to, cold shock and cold incapacitation, afterdrop, hypothermia and death. Conditions such as asthma and high blood pressure can cause problems with sudden immersion in cold.
Please use the resources available (such as the Cold section of this website and the other swimmers within The Outdoor Swimming Society community on FB) to educate yourself before getting in, and swim safe. If you decide that you are fit and ready for winter swimming, seek the advice of the more experienced, consider swimming in a group (either a wild swim group or a winter lido) and go gently – think 10 strokes not 10 minutes.
Responsibility for safety lies with individual swimmers and is not assumed by The Outdoor Swimming Society or any of it’s volunteers or staff in providing this free community group (please see the terms of our OSS Swim Responsibility Statement).
“We moved here from the U.S. in late March and I started swimming outdoors in April. Guernsey is an open water swimmer’s paradise. We have 29 bays ranging from wide sandy beaches to small coves under cliffs as well as a set of Victorian sea pools which refresh every high tide. The choice depends mainly on the tide and the wind direction.
“There is a strong outdoor swimming culture here ranging from Channel and inter-island swimmers to those who go in to chat with friends. Wetsuits are somewhat frowned on. This morning at Cobo beach there were 8 other swimmers in the sea with me. This seems to be typical for this time of year!
“I grew up by the coast in the UK but it never occurred to us to swim in the winter, Christmas Day excepted. We have since lived all over the world and I have always enjoyed swimming outside but always used a wetsuit in colder weather. I am going to try to swim skins at least once a week through the winter while we are on Guernsey. The best investments so far have been an insulated swim cap and ear plugs! I am eyeing a DryRobe as the temperature drops.”
“I grew up by the coast in the UK but it never occurred to us to swim in the winter, Christmas Day excepted. There is a strong outdoor swimming culture here ranging from Channel and inter-island swimmers to those who go in to chat with friends. Wetsuits are somewhat frowned on.”
“This year I took 6 months unpaid leave from work and the top thing on my bucket list was to swim regularly in the sea. That was my only goal. I put no pressure on myself other than to swim every day I could and see if I could keep going in all year. My winter plan is to keep going in at least 2 or 3 times a week and if that means just run in and dip down and run out then so be it!
“Why do I want to try to swim all year? Because it is a crazy thing to do, because I will do it with a group of women here who have already done it so I know it can be done, because it pushes me out of my comfort zone, because it makes me feel amazing and because I love the smug feeling you get when people say ‘you swim in the sea, in the winter, with no wetsuit?’
“I’m still swimming, if you can count spending an average of 15-20 minutes in the sea off the north Kent coast. Our trusty duck thermometer is telling us it’s 12 degrees but it feels colder. I’ve got my neoprene 4mm socks on which are making a huge difference, but holding off on my gloves! They may go on this week.”
“Why do I want to try to swim all year? Because it is a crazy thing to do, because I will do it with a group of women here who have already done it so I know it can be done, because it pushes me out of my comfort zone, because it makes me feel amazing”
“I did an open water swimming course in May this year and began my journey! I now swim about 3-4 times a week, a mix of indoor pool, river and lakes. My local regular spot is at the river in Eaton. I plan to continue swimming skins as I don’t have a wetsuit but I’m also keeping an open mind. I’ve signed up for the Polar Bear Challenge Classic to encourage me to carry on through winter (200m twice a month from Nov-Mar) but I don’t know how my body will cope as temperatures dip.
“I didn’t plan to continue through winter initially but I’m really interested to find out the effect it will have on me and if I can do it – I’m guessing there could be some choice words along the way! I’m worried about getting painful hands and feet in the water but have gloves and socks to wear as it cools down. My favourite things about outdoor swimming are the feel good factor and meeting new people. Now it’s colder I’d add to that drinking hot chocolate and the joy of putting on clothes that have been wrapped around a hot water bottle!”
“I dip 2-3 times a week with friends in the sea and always swim in Gurnard as a large group on Sunday mornings as part of the Dipping Society. These dips always take place in skins but we also have begun to swim longer distances as a group of us are circumnavigating the Island in gradual 2k increments which in recent weeks we have progressed to wetsuits for safety and comfort.
“I began swimming with the group last October (before that I struggled to get in the sea without a wetsuit even in the height of summer!), but I took a break between early December and late February last winter. My aim this year is to go all year round. I would like to know that I am capable of doing this as I admire others that do and I am so lucky to have the sea on my doorstep. I would also like to develop the tolerance to cope with longer swims without a wetsuit, gloves or boots (I’ll keep the woolly hat though).”
“I would like to know that I am capable of doing this as I admire others that do and I am so lucky to have the sea on my doorstep. I would also like to develop the tolerance to cope with longer swims without a wetsuit, gloves or boots (I’ll keep the woolly hat though).”
“I have always swum outdoors, though sporadically. I swim distance indoors at the UCL pool in Bloomsbury, whereas outdoor swimming tends to be more like ‘dipping’ – most regularly in the Ladies Pond on Hampstead Heath, but also in lakes, rivers or the sea wherever I happen to be (recently in South Devon and North Yorkshire).
“I have dipped once or twice in winter water, but never regularly or habitually before. At the moment I’m swimming once a week indoors and dipping twice a week on the Heath. I’m planning on swimming skins, though I may resort to a neoprene swim top when the temperature really drops. The temperature in the Ladies’ Pond is 16 degrees at the moment, I expect it will start dropping quite quickly.
“Keeping courage high and motivation strong once the weather grows dark and damp will be a challenge, but I want to do it because it makes me feel so very well. It salts the day, lends a sense of accomplishment and makes everything that follows seem easier and more achievable. I notice a powerful upswing in my mood and feel in all ways more resilient and alive.”
“Keeping courage high and motivation strong once the weather grows dark and damp will be a challenge, but I want to do it because it makes me feel so very well. It salts the day, lends a sense of accomplishment and makes everything that follows seem easier and more achievable.”
“My regular outdoor swimming started on 9th June 2019. Since then I’ve swum two or three times a week. I swim in the Thames and around my local area with West Berks Open Water Swimmers.
“I want to keep going all year to see if I can. I love swimming and have thoroughly enjoyed swimming outdoors all summer. Also because I’ve heard such good things about the benefits; to make me fearless(!); to keep my fitness; so that I can get acclimatised and find it easier in the future; so that I can do interesting events in the future; and so that I’m not labelled as a fair-weather swimmer!
“I’m concerned about everything! Being cold, obviously. Being brave enough to actually get in. Getting into trouble and not realising that I’ve got too cold before it’s too late. Not being able to warm up again. Having a temperature drop once I’m home and not knowing what to do about it. Being forced to swim breaststroke (which I hate and makes my back/knees ache) because it’s too cold to put my face in. My fingers and toes going completely numb (family history of Reynaud’s) and not being able to bring them back to life. Needing to buy loads of new kit. Losing fitness / endurance because I won’t be swimming for as long nor far as I have over the summer.
“I have just today ordered a ‘bubble’ hat to try and keep more heat in and some gloves since my hands are going numb pretty quickly. I’ve already been wearing some very old beach shoes, but may have to also buy some proper socks soon. Apart from that, I am all about the hot fennel tea, some healthy post swim snacks and lots of warm layers.
“It’s interesting to me that I haven’t yet worked out if I’m actually enjoying it! I was loving it over the summer, but now feel like I’m not relaxing enough, or actually swimming enough to truly enjoy it – I’m just a bit too nervous about getting too cold. That said, it’s great at clearing my head and I feel a real sense of accomplishment in doing it.”
“I can swim but I would not describe myself as a swimmer. However, my youngest daughter, 12, swims for City of Cambridge Swimming Club CoCSC and I took her to an open water swim at Milton Country Park ahead of her July open water swim in Norwich. The swim at Milton Country Park, on a Bank Holiday Friday evening, was an incredible experience and I’ve been in a Lido, river, lake or the sea everyday since. I’m fascinated by the cold swimming experience.
“All of the above coincided with me stopping drinking during the week; I now have only a couple of glasses of wine on a Friday and Saturday. I’ve lost 20lbs, I’m sleeping like a baby, and I am relaxed. My mental health has vastly improved. I would not be planning to swim throughout the winter if I didn’t think there were some significant health benefits both in terms of immunity and mental health.
“I’m still swimming at the River Cam at Grantchester Meadows and the River Ouse at Houghton Mill. I’ve also been swimming in the Stour, Waveney and at the north Norfolk coast. I think I will also take some weekend trips to the Parliament Hill Lido. I plan to stay in skins if possible.”
“I’ve lost 20lbs, I’m sleeping like a baby, and I am relaxed. My mental health has vastly improved. I would not be planning to swim throughout the winter if I didn’t think there were some significant health benefits both in terms of immunity and mental health.”