Open water swimming is a challenging and exhilarating experience. Add near freezing water into the equation and you’ll have the opportunity to truly test yourself against the elements. The training and mental toughness of cold water swimmers is unmatched in the sporting world. For those willing to make the leap into this growing extreme sport, here are the top five locations for a chilly dip.
1. Cape Horn, Chile
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Take a swim around the southern end of Isla Hornos, or Cape Horn, and you’ll experience open sea swimming at its wildest and roughest. Temperatures in the winter range from 1° C to 8° C, and even in good weather, large swells and winds in excess of 15 knots present challenges for even the most seasoned open water swimmer. This is not a swim to embark on unaccompanied, as swirling winds and unpredictable weather changes can quickly turn things from challenging to dangerous.
2. Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY
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Coney Island in Brooklyn, NY is home to the oldest polar bear club in North America. In the winter, the water temperature at the beach hovers around 2.2° C, and the club take to the Atlantic Ocean each Sunday as well as annually on New Year’s Day. A perfect place to dip your toes into cold water swimming, the waters off of Coney Island are protected by a bay and are generally fairly calm. The salty Atlantic also contributes to buoyancy, making it easier to stay afloat in the chilly conditions.
3. Lake Windermere, England
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England’s largest lake is an ideal spot for a chilly freshwater swim. Surrounded by the beauty and tranquillity of the Lake District, swimmers are greeted with calm, but chilly waters. Depending on the harshness of the winter, Windermere can range from a relatively balmy 8° C to near freezing. In fact, there are some years where the lake freezes over altogether. Each February, Lake Windermere hosts The Big Chill Swim, a cold water swimming competition suitable for everyone from beginners to veterans. The friendly event spans just a few hundred meters and presents a great starting point for fledgling cold-water swimmers.
4. Spitsbergen, Norway
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The Arctic Ocean represents the ultimate cold water swimming destination. A popular stop on Arctic cruises, there are several sheltered swimming spots around the island. Though the waters may be calm, this is one of the few places in the world where swimmers are accompanied by armed snipers as polar bears are known to frequent the area. Swimmers can expect extremely cold temperatures here as the water remains at a steady 1° C.
5. Vansbro, Sweden
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Located in central Sweden, Vansbro is famous for its cold water swimming spots and hosts Vansbrosimningen (Vansbro Swim) each year. The region’s Vanan and Vesterdal Rivers present two of the best open water swimming opportunities in the country. In the winter, Sweden enjoys an average temperature of -5° C. Water temperatures around Vanbro hover above freezing in the colder months and offer excellent Nordic scenery for those who are able to take the chill.
The benefits of open water swimming on mood and health are no secret. It appears that those of us who regularly take the plunge into chilly waters are fitter, have a stronger immune system and are generally in a better mood than the rest of the population. So, with health in mind, why not give these cold water swimming hot spots a try?