Amid growing interest in cold water swimming, bathers give personal accounts of why they dive
Even before the pandemic, outdoor swimming was riding a wave of popularity in the UK, with a growing number of Speedo-clad bathers leaping into lidos, lakes and rivers.
Successive coronavirus lockdowns failed to dampen the nation’s enthusiasm for flirting with hypothermia, and when the latest lockdown was eased in April, The lidos were awash with swimmers. Some compared getting a spot in their local group to getting a ticket to Glasto.
So what drives people to take the plunge? The reported Mental Health Benefits of Swimming Outdoors He probably took many people to the edge of a swimming pool. The same goes for the desire to stay in shape. But surely there was more to the UK’s outdoor swimming renaissance?
Eager to discover the personal stories behind the rise of cold water swimming was the WaterAid charity. He tracked down die-hard fans across the country for an online gallery celebrating the power of water.
Reasons to Swim reveals intimate portraits of people who are drawn to cold water, whether on city lidos or at sea.
Jojo O’Brien, a bather from Devon, appeared in the project. “Swimming in open water is much more than swimming,” he said. “It transports you away from any problems, they literally disappear, if only temporarily.”
“Swimming in open water takes you out of trouble,” O’Brien said. Image: WaterAid / Nikki McClarron
O’Brien began swimming after surgery on his injured foot, which still causes him discomfort. The injury, she said, left her feeling a loss of identity and mobility. Swimming in the sea near his home in Salcome, Devon was like therapy.
“The icy winter waters brought me back to my place and made me appreciate the things I had,” he said. “I met some wonderful people who went to the beach on my own every day and now I have formed some strong friendships; that has helped me make the transition of my life.”
Audrey Livingston and Debbie Croydon have also built lasting relationships on the water. In fact, their icy dives at Hackney’s West Reservoir Center inspired them to launch Soul swimmers, a community of women bathers of BAME origin.
Livingston and Croydon launched a group to bring the BAME women into the water. Image: WaterAid / Nikki McClarron
The couple formed the group after noticing the lack of BAME women in the water. According to Sport England, 95 percent of black adults and 80 percent of black children in England do not swim.
“My idea was to create a swimming group for women like us,” Croydon said. “I wanted women to learn to swim and go into open water.”
Livingstone added: “Swimming in cold water is great for quieting the mind. It’s relaxing and gives you a sense of freedom that makes you forget where you are. “
“Swimming in cold water is great for quieting the mind,” Livingstone said. Image: WaterAid / Nikki McClarron
Other swimmers searched the water for catharsis. “My connection to outdoor swimming is due to the breakdown of a relationship,” said Laurie Firth, a regular at London Fields Lido. “It felt so powerful to connect with a new community and be in my body and submerged in the water, rather than in my head.”
He added: “When the lido reopened, I realized that it was both the community and the swimming that had been absent from my life. Swimming it is a bonding activity. Even if people are at vastly different levels in terms of strength and speed, simply standing in the shallows or in the showers and talking is just as important as to swim itself.”
WaterAid is launching a swimming challenge this summer to help raise money for the one in ten people around the world who do not have clean water close to home. More details can be found here.
Lead image: Laurie Firth at London Fields Lido. Credit: WaterAid / Nikki McClarron