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Digital Subscriptions > Men's Fitness > October 2019 > Wild WATERS

Wild WATERS

AUTHOR JOE MINIHANE TAKES A DEEP DIVE INTO THE WORLD OF WILD SWIMMING, THE BRACING PURSUIT THAT PROVIDES A WHOLE HOST OF MIND AND BODY BENEFITS AWAY FROM THE CHLORINATED CONFINES OF THE POOL

It’s January on Brighton beach. There’s snow on the pebbles and a stiff breeze blowing along the promenade. I unzip my down jacket, step out of my tracksuit bottoms and pull of my baselayer. My chest prickles with goose bumps as I tug on my swimming cap, slip on a pair of neoprene shoes and gloves, snap my goggles across my face and stride towards the sea. The air temperature is hovering around zero. The water is a positively balmy 6ºC.

I feel something akin to an electric shock travelling up my legs as I wade out. I slow my breathing down before sliding my shoulders beneath the waves. My lungs empty immediately, but I push on into a steady breast stroke (it’s too cold for front crawl). I watch a seagull dip and skitter along the surface, briefly forgetting the chill of the water. After 50 strokes towards the horizon, I turn and swim back to shore – and the warmth of my towel. It’s not much of a workout, but as the endorphins fire through my system and I get dressed, I feel calmer, less stressed and ready to face the day.

This is my daily ritual, and has been ever since I discovered the writing of naturalist Roger Deakin, whose book Waterlog explores the UK’s wild water with a sense of utter joy. It’s a journey I retraced in my own book, Floating.

Wild swimming – swimming in open bodies of water such as rivers, lakes and the sea – has enjoyed a renaissance in the UK in the past decade. The Outdoor Swimming Society has seen its membership top 70,000 in the past two years, with organised events such as the annual Dart 10km oversubscribed. The water’s allure, though, is as much about reconnecting with nature and easing mental health struggles as it is about keeping physically fit.

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