Getting Started

Getting started with cold-water swims:

Safety first

Swim at own risk.  Rock hazards and other debris.  Watch your head.  Never swim alone.  Know your limit and stay withinit.

A good way to get started is to simply get used to the idea of getting your clothes off in cool weather.

A really simple lifestyle change is to always wear a bathing suit under your clothes so that you can strip down on short notice, and then watch for nice weather, and try sunbathing first.  Find a wind-sheltered area and pick a sunny day with low wind, and grab a thick blanket and strip and lay on the blanket for a short while at solar noon.  Over time you realize you can stay longer outdoors and get more vitamin D and less sickness.  Healthy sun exposure with a little bit of coolness before getting dressed...

Start with sunbathing: sit on a large blanket and keep your head covered, etc., so there is some exposure to coldness and to sun.  We start with a few minutes and then build up to longer exposures like 60 minutes at -21C (wind chill -35C).  Here a nice recess in the architecture helps reduce the wind.

This practice will get you used to the idea of undressing and dressing quickly and efficiently so you can understand the dynamics of clothing.

Additionally you want to overdress before and after the cold exposure.

The next step is wet cold exposure, e.g. it can be something as simple as taking off your clothes and going for a run at solar noon when it is sunny and not windy.  Start with shoes initially and then also try some very short barefoot runs.

The next step is to wait for a fresh snowfall and then strip and roll in the snow and then quickly get dressed.  Make 1 "snow angel".

Next time make a few "snow angels".

A good idea is to wear one bathing suit under your clothes and carry a second one in your pocket to change into when you're finished with the wet exposure.  Another thing to carry in another pocket is a microfiber travel towel, i.e. a towel that folds up really small.

By always being ready to "doff your duds" you can quickly respond to the weather on short notice.

The next step is to take your clothes off and go dancing in the rain or running in the snow or the like.  Going for a run in the rain or snow with your clothes off is a good intro to brief cold exposure.  Some swimsuits have a small pocket for keys or you can tie a key into the waistband rope or also install a keyless entry to your home space.

It is good to have a sauna or hot room at home.  This can be something as simple as a room that is kept nice and warm to retreat to after the cold exposure.

For safety we do this as a group activity, going for a run or swim as a group, and we have zero alcohol or other drugs.  A lot of people have described cold exposure as having effects similar to cocaine.

Safety from health issues, e.g. should something happen, safety from the natural elements, e.g. should the weather suddenly change, and safety from the police or other authorities who might cause trouble, depending on jurisdiction, e.g. we're not aware of any laws being broken but the situation appearing unusual (no shirt, no shoes, etc.) might cause problems.  Some jurisdictions have fines or other penalties but swimmers push these boundaries, e.g. the lawyer in Florida who went jogging with no shirt on, was fined, and he fought and won a court case against the City for trying to impose a shirts requirement in the city.  A group of sunbathing joggers is less likely to be stopped by the police than an individual person.  If your swimsuit has a pocket, consider also carrying a phone in case of emergency, or to document police misconduct (accountability is a great defense and it is usually a good idea to record all encounters with police or security guards; sometimes the simple act of doing this will make them act more reasonably).

The next step is water exposure.  Cold showers can get you part of the way there, and if you have a shoulder injury, or the like, a cold soak can help too.

A large tub can be left outdoors in cool weather to create a cold-water therapy space.  If you have an injury, such as a shoulder injury, cold water can often help.  We usually bust up the ice at least twice a day to prevent it from freezing and bursting the tub.  Polyethelene tubs are good in this regard since they have a little bit of "give" and can expand a bit due to ice formation.  A bromine-dispensing "rubber duckie" is also a good idea to keep the water nice.  A tub cover is also a good idea.

A natural body of water is really ideal too.  Downtown Toronto has only one beach, and it is located at Ontario Place.  There are other beaches in Toronto but none downtown; the other beaches are further away and not as clean.  Sunnyside beach is behind a breakwall and the water gets quite dirty.  Cherry beach water is also kind of murky.  The nice thing about Ontario Place is that it is an island quite far out into the lake, away from the mainland far enough that it tends to enjoy cleaner water.  Additionally there is very little dirt or mud or sand.  So it is easy to stay clean, e.g. with the nice pebble beach and crystal-clear sand-free water most of the time.  The absence of grit and grime helps, but if you're new to this place and have sensitive feet you might want swim shoes.

Many of us run barefoot back-and-forth along the pebbles of the beach for exercise and this is what you might want to build up to.  Perhaps start with swim shoes and brief barefoot pebble exposure and build up to it.

A number of us wear a Cressi elastic neoprene boot, 7mm, together with a neoprene swim cap and neoprene mittens such as O'Neill Psycho Tech Flash Bomb Mittens.

Note that there are lots of big nasty rocks, especially East of the red railing so we swim West of the red railing, and even then, we watch carefully where we're going and enter very gently and cautiously.

There are quite a few rocks, boulders, bricks, cinder blocks, and other items on the lake bottom.  We have worked quite hard to remove a lot of the sharp metal objects from the lake bottom in an effort to try and improve safety but there is always new items washing up on the beach in in the water as the lake is in a constant state of flux.


A first swim can be a short swim, just a quick dip, or even just putting your feet in the water and getting used to getting changed, etc..

There are heated changeroom facilities very close to the beach that are open year-round.  If you're changing on the beach, a change bag such as Swim Feral makes it a lot easier to change clothes in a snowbank, and some of us also use a DryRobe (change robe).

The TeachBeach is our favorite place to swim, where we have built an outdoor classroom.  We usually meet at the chalkboard + whiteboard (bring your own chalk or dry-erase markers or ask one of the fellow swimmers who often bring some Hagoromo).

The chalkboard is located where the wind is lowest, due to shelter of the cliff edge.  But there are rocks at this end of the beach so we usually change at the chalkboard and run to the mid-beach area, to swim West of the red railing where there are fewer rocks in the water.  Of course there are rocks nearly everywhere so we always need to be careful and watch where we swim!

Chalkboard to the East of the red railing (visible in background) where we change and then we enter just West of the red railing where there are fewer rocks but we always watch carefully for rocks and other debris.  If you spot new debris, let others know as we build 3D maps of debris location for our next beach cleanup effort.

Making "snow angels" at the TeachBeach(TM) outdoor classroom chalkboard.

Don't try growlerboarding until you have lots of experience doing icewater swimming plus also winter surfing or sup surfing, and when you're growlering, note that your vessel can disappear anytime in short notice, e.g. it can suddenly break up, or capsize, or take on water and just simply sink.  Unlike a regular surfboard that tends to be stable in one dimension and unstable in the other, growler-sized ice fragments are often unstable in all directions so you can capsize left-to-right as well as front-to-back.  This requires constant awareness of exit strategy should your vessel suddenly disappear or become unviable.

Never swim alone, and finding swim buddies is easy.

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