Trumpet icicles dangle over the icy blue water's edge

Trumpet ice formations loom over the water in Bruce Peninsula National Park. Photo by Scott Parent

Cold water is on the rise

Although the thought of jumping into the open water during the winter months may send you running back to the fireplace, cold-water swimming has been practised and praised across cultures and locations for centuries.

Cold-water swimming is claimed to boast a slew of health benefits, ranging from increased circulation, immunity, and metabolism, to improved mental health and libido. As a result, more and more people are trying cold-water swimming as part of a natural health regimen.

Cold water swimming is also becoming a popular way to get outside and exercise in the winter months.

Since its genesis in 2009, the International Ice Swimming Association has grown to have branches in over 40 countries around the world. Winter surfing is also on rise, with places like Canada’s eastern coast becoming premier cold water surfing destinations.

In recent years, the sport has also been popularized by people who dare to push the boundaries of the human body

Lewis Pugh is one of the most famous open and cold-water swimmers in the world. He frequently uses these extreme activities to raise awareness about environmental issues, such as the protection and restoration of marine environments and sea level rise.

In 2007, he swam a kilometre across the geographic North Pole to highlight the impacts of climate change on the area. In 2010 he swam a kilometre across Lake Pumori, a glacial lake on Mount Everest, to draw attention to the melting ice caps in the region.

The water was below 2°C (28°F) for both of these events.

Alternatively, superhuman Wim Hof, who broke 21 world records relating to withstanding the cold, has developed an entire lifestyle regimen, known as the Wim Hof Method, that largely revolves around cold-water exposure and breathing techniques.

He has put himself and his methods through rigorous scientific testing and continues to push the frontier of human ability. Using his training, Wim Hof claims people can gain control over their autoimmune and respiratory systems, leading to numerous health benefits.

If all this has you excited to strip down and jump into icy waters, be sure to consider whether cold-water swimming is right for you. For the average beginner, cold-water exposure poses as many risks as it does benefits.

We’ve compiled a list of some of the best resources on the web that you should consult before getting into wintery waters.

  • Safety tip: As with all open water activities, if you’re doing it alone you’re doing it wrong!

Cold-water swimming resources:

This award-winning blog is known as the cold-water bible for swimmers. Operated by Donal Buckley, The Lone Swimmer offers an expansive library of original articles on everything coldwater swimming.

Started by Ram Barkai and friends, the IISA is the leading international organization for the promotion of ice swimming. The Association organizes events and provides numerous resources on the sport.

Writing for the Outdoor Swimming Society, Kate Rew & Heather Massey offer tips to increase your tolerance to cold water as you begin your journey into cold-water swimming.

Kathleen McDonnell shares how cold-water swimming has positively influenced her life both physically and mentally in the Walrus.

As part of the Ask a Doctor series in the Washington Post, Dr. Richard Friedman discusses the potential health benefits of cold-water swimming and the scientific research that has been conducted in this area.

A polar plunge at Herring Cove, Nova Scotia. Photo by Glenn Euloth (Flickr: Link)

Cold-water surfing resources:

Cottage Life offers a beginner’s guide to cold-water surfing. They even make some suggestions for the best spots in Canada!

The offers both gear-related and practical advice for catching a winter wave.

Surfer Magazine provides insights into how to actually enjoy, rather than tolerate, cold-water surfing.

Winter surfer, Alex Boutilier, reveals all you need to know about winter-surfing on the Great Lakes.

Man winter-surfing in the Great Lakes under a sunny winter sky.

Winter-surfing in the Great Lakes. Photo by Robert Teuwen