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A Beginners Guide to Cold Sea Swimming.

Crystal clear water at Cadgwith, Cornwall.
Kate sitting in the back of a Suzuki Vitara changing cloths from swimming.
Snowdon mountains in the distance as Kaye edges in the freezing lake.

Cold Water Swimming

A safe patch of sea

Off-shore > 20mph

Any you're prepared for

If you’ve had the salty taste of sea swimming in Cornwall, why wouldn’t you want to try it all year round? Baby it’s cold outside ‑ yet the ocean is still calling our names! I began submerging my swimsuit bod in the late Autumn of 2020 and here are the things I’ve learnt when swimming in cold water.

👇 Hopefully this basic beginners guide to help you get started. I am currently working on an outdoor swimming resource guide thats should help you all with the first point.

***Please note that this beginners guide only goes so far ‑ it is only for those looking to enjoy the water for leisure and will not suit someone looking to take up sea swimming as a water sport!

Get clued up about sea conditions.

📚 Leaning is half the fun ‑ educate yourself on tides, rips, currents, sewage, swell, lifeguards, winds, wave height. Every single beach in Cornwall is different, so get familiar with your local and study it until you know it like the back on your hand.

Why? 👉 So you don’t put yourself or others in danger. Understanding what the weather and sea conditions are doing when you are in the water gives you way more control and allows you to enjoy the sea with confidence.

Dip with a friend or shore spotter.

👯‍♂️ Go with someone ‑ it can be a sea dipper with experience or a friend you’ve semi‑forced into trying this new venture with you. If no one can go in with you then have someone you trust to cheer you on from the shoreline.

Why? 👉 Be safe and be seen. As a beginner you won’t know your own limits and sea swimming can be dangerous any time of the year, no matter what the conditions. So don’t try it alone. Don’t even think about it!

Kate at Constantine Bay, Cornwall wearing Red Dry Robe.

Bring a small thermometer.

🌡 Know the sea temp ‑ whether you are a beginner or a seasoned swimmer, knowing the sea temperature will clue you up on how long to stay in the water for and how your body reacts.

Why? 👉 It is considered a vital piece of safety equipment and allows you to gauge your own limits, plus its cool when the air temp is colder than the sea temp.

Protect your head, fingers and toes.

🧤 Invest in some neoprene ‑ definitely do the gloves as it’s a game changer. Some people have the booties too and you can even get neoprene swim hats but a thick warm wooly hat seems to be popular and do the trick ‑ just don’t forget you’ve got it on!

Why? 👉 It’s your extremities that often freeze first as you body is diverting all its efforts to protect your core. Neoprene gloves means you can stay comfortable in the water for longer.

Kate swimming and filming a boat passing the Todden in Cadgwith, Cornwall.

Warm yourself up before getting in.

💃🏻 Dance, walk, do your best star jumps ‑ get your blood pumping make an effort to warm up your core temperature for about 10‑15mins before heading in.

Why? 👉 It’s like warming up for any exercise. Plus by generating heat, you are better preparing your body to deal with the shock of the cold water.

Don’t faff, just get in.

🧜🏻‍♀️ Think warm thoughts ‑ everyone has their own routine and you can take your time as long as you keep moving. You can gently wade in or wet your face and neck as you inch in ‑ there may or may not be cussing!

Why? 👉 You will always feel the cold shock response ‑ it will be bloody freezing at first but you need to think past it, focus and breathe. Thinking cold thoughts doesn’t help and makes the whole experience less enjoyable!

Pack loose, warm layers and layers of clothing.

🧦🧣🧥 Prepare properly for post‑swim changing ‑ choose your loosest warmest cloths because trying to put on leggings with cold shivering hands and damp bod isn’t fun! Here is a checklist:

  • Wooly Hat
  • Jogging Bottoms
  • Warm Jumper/hoodie
  • Thermals
  • Gloves
  • Thick warm socks
  • Robe (not essential but really keeps you warm whilst changing)

Why? 👉 The aim is to dry off and change as quickly and ninja as possible in case your body experiences an ‘after drop’ of your core temperature ‑ the effect of cooled peripheral blood returning to the core and/or the warm core rewarming the periphery ‑ it basically causes shivering which is a natural body response to mild hypothermia. However, it can make changing a little tricky sometimes!

Star fishing floating in Mabe Quarry, Cornwall

Post‑swim hot drink and/or snack.

☕️ Warm your body from the inside ‑ once your layers are firmly layered, get a hot drink or food and fuel your inner warmth. It’s also a great time for a chin wag and to compare crocs.

Why? 👉 Warming up as much internally as well as externally gives your body a chance to recover and return back to ‘normal’ temperature safely.

Suits or skins?

🩱 Wetsuits or costume ‑ remember only you can decide which one is best for you ‑ it might be you need to go wetsuit first to be able to acclimatise better if a cossie is the final goal ‑ thats what I did! There are other options like thermal rash vests and thicker swimwear.

🤳🏻 It’s important to not let what you see on social media push you completely out of your comfort and safety zone. Wearing a wetsuit makes swimming in the sea no less enjoyable or valid because you still experiences cold water shock and ice‑cream head. Wetsuit or not, all the above still applies!

Sea swimming is awesome!

🌊 If you have read this guide then you have probably already heard of the incredible benefits sea swimming has (I feel another guide brewing). There is no denying the joyous endorphin rush it brings to the rest of your day.

🌈 I hope this has helped you, please feel free to share with your friends (top right hand corner) and hopefully we’ll convert a few more to getting in the sea all year round!

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If you have any questions or comments, pop them below or email me. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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