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Comfort in the cold

The air temperature is a mere 2°C above freezing. Snow covers a rugged, barren landscape and a strong north-westerly wind causes surface ripples at the lake, which is almost 1,000 feet above sea level. A number of open-water swimmers brazenly walk into the freezing lake, completely disregarding the extremities of this harsh and uninviting environment. Wearing nothing but a lycra swimsuit or shorts, they wade up to their waist through the frigid substances, pushing pieces of ice to the side before diving into the water. The thermometer displays a temperature of a mere 0.9°C above freezing and the wind chill makes it feel more like -10°C. After 25 minutes, the swimmers return to the water’s edge, clambering up the slippery rocks with a noticeably deep-red complexion. Shortly after, they’re in their dry robes (a fleece-lined dressing gown) and the endorphins kick in – there’s a sense of elation and euphoria etched across their faces as they bounce back and forth of each other with verbal banter, and an encouraging appreciation of what they have just accomplished. The smiles and conversations continue for the rest of the day. This is wild swimming.

Outdoor, or wild swimming, is one of the fastest-growing adventure sports in the UK as more people are realising the benefits of swimming in cold or natural flowing water. This series of images follows wild swimmers throughout the year; from the hot and dry summer months to the unpredictable cold winter season with water temperatures barely above freezing. I spent a year documenting a number of groups, clubs and individuals across the country, immersing myself in the culture of wild swimming, in order to delve deep into the personalities of these intrepid souls.

Unlike the more traditional pool swimmers, wild swimmers are less interested in the competitive nature of swimming and more in the varying benefits of open water and its nourishing qualities. Being in water can improve emotional health and mental wellbeing, including decreasing anxiety and depression, and promoting better mood according to research. From mental illness to PTSD, the water allows the swimmers to completely detach from the mental or physical anguish in their lives and find comfort in the cold.

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Be Kind
May 2019

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