Winter swimming is booming in Ireland as the lockdown shuts so many sporting avenues. Ice water specialist Dee Newell says it is a sport open to all, you just need to be brave.
Newell has a strong background in cold waters having started with short winter dips in 2010 and progressed to 1km in Antarctica where the water hits a balmy 1.6 degrees Celsius. Her longest swim so far is 15 hours crossing the English Channel.
The Galwaywoman runs webinars on winter swimming with tailored advice for people going for a quick dip and more ambitious swimmers (details below). Her top tips focus on safety and as a member of the Irish Defence Forces she takes that seriously.
She recommends getting to know the other women at your favourite spot; ask where are the currents or the risk points. Download an App for tide times.
Newell prefers a swimsuit or bikini rather than a wetsuit but says some swimmers wear thermal rashies. A silicone or neoprene swimming hat keeps your head warm. Clear goggles and ear-plugs keep you safe.
Clothing should be loose and warm, avoid tight-fitting tops or anything with multiple zips. Newell says leaving your swim hat on while dressing keeps some warmth on your head. And keeps long hair out of the way until you are ready to towel-dry. Bring something to stand on as the sand or concrete will be icy in winter.
There is some light-hearted controversy over whether to use a giant fleecy waterproof robe afterwards or not. Most swimmers doing longer swims love their robes. Newell has a review video on her Instagram looking at different brands.
But older swimmers who have been doing this for years without any fanfare can be hilariously dismissive, as recorded on this RTE show a few weeks ago.
A flask with hot sugary liquid is important as the heat and sugar help with recovery. Some women bring cake too. She says on medical grounds avoid drinking alcohol immediately after a swim and leave some time before getting into a hot shower or bath.
The dangers of this sport were highlighted in mid-November when the Greystones Coast Guard Unit had to hoist a swimmer out of the water.
Open Water specialist Nuala Moore wrote on her Facebook page that day: “It is vital to be able to risk assess these conditions as ‘unsuitable ‘ and walk away. Everyday is not a swim day. There were weather warnings in place. It’s OK to step away.”
Newell can be contacted directly on her Instagram page @dee_from_the_sea She posts details there of webinars with lively Q&A sessions for swimmers at all levels.
Swimmers looking to develop their racing skills can look to the Irish Ice Swimming Association for guidance. Find them on Facebook @cuintheice Chairperson Tiffiny Quinn told the Irish Times: “It is a very dangerous sport but handled well it’s fine.”
Extreme swimmer Nuala Moore runs webinars for more advanced swimmers, contact her for details.