Growing winter swimmers community enjoys a bit of competition

Winter swimmers in Tallinn.
Winter swimmers in Tallinn. Source: ERR

Long-time winter swimming enthusiasts in Estonia have seen the community grow in recent years, with more people interested in competing in the discipline, ERR weekend news reported.

Air temperature -1, water 7 degrees – a gray and bleak November morning. The coziest thing would be to curl up under a blanket, while people here are walking gingerly into the sea. Why would anyone want to do something like this?

"Even if the person walks up looking serious, they'll be laughing by the time they get out of the water. I don't know whether it is the cold tugging at the corners of people's mouths when the skin contracts or just a positive emotion. It is also one of the simplest hobbies to have," said Aivar Tugedam, organizer of the IceSwim Festival.

It is not just the simplest way to feel adrenaline and good vibes, but regularly exposing yourself to the elements keeps illness away.

"I haven't had a cold since [I started], winter swimmer Harri told ERR. "The only time I got sick in the last five years was with Covid. Before, I used to come down with something a few times every winter."

Experienced winter or ice swimmers have a few good tips for beginners.

"Never go alone. You never know what effects or shock could follow. Also, you should definitely stay in [the water] long enough for the feeling of cold to pass. Because if you don't, it will just feel cold the next time," Harri said.

Winter swimming is becoming increasingly popular, with people even competing. Henri Kaarma has participated in swimming marathons abroad for 13 years.

Several-time medalist and 2014 world record holder is most proud of organizing the first winter swimming competition in Estonia in 2010 after a break of many decades. The sport has been gaining traction since.

"As you know, winter swimming has become more popular. I'm glad to see it has reached the masses," Kaarma remarked.

That a fun hobby is also becoming a sport is reflected in the fact that this fall's events saw over 100 participants. The more popular disciplines are 25 meters freestyle and 25 meters breaststroke. Tallinn's IceSwim Festival that starts November 28 this year draws competitors from many corners of the world. The organizers do not consider the thirst for victory to be the most important aspect.

"The time doesn't really matter. You can simply enjoy putting in your 25 meters of breaststroke or freestyle, whatever your favorite discipline is, and you'll get your medal! It is mystical, I'll tell you!" Tugedam exclaimed.

Enthusiasts say that winter swimming will probably make the Olympics once climate change has done away with snow for good.


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Editor: Karin Koppel, Marcus Turovski

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