Ice swimmer Wim Hof of the Netherlands threw caution to the wind in this ice swimming stunt.
Not only did he swim under ice, he swam 57.5 meters (188.5 feet) from one hole to another in a lake near the Finnish village of Kolari (granted he followed a safety line–common practice in all ice swimming).
Then, ten years later, Stig Avall Severinsen swam 72 meters (236 feet), nabbing Hof’s Guinness World Record for Farthest Swim Under Ice. All this in waters cold enough to induce hypothermia in a matter of seconds.
Do these guys have a death wish? Maybe. Are they insane? No, not really. They’re just ice swimmers.
Want to find out how you can become a member of their exclusive club? We thought you might.
If you think ice swimming is as simple as plopping into any opening in a frozen over body of water, you’d be wrong. Sort of. There’s not a whole lot more to it than that but there are some subtle variations.
Winter Swimming: All winter swimming is not necessarily ice swimming but all ice swimming is absolutely winter swimming. Let us explain. Winter swimming can occur in any environment, frozen or not, as long as it’s wintertime and it’s cold outside. No ice necessary.
Ice Swimming: Let’s say you’re taking a nice late November swim in a Minnetonka, Minnesota lake. Provided you’ll allow that winter starts after Thanksgiving, you’d be winter swimming. Come back three weeks later to take a dip in the same lake and you’ll see it’s frozen over.
If there’s a portion of ice carved out for swimming (whether made by you or someone else) and you hop in, you’re ice swimming!
It’s as simple as that, but beware: In order for water bodies to freeze over temperatures have to be below freezing (of course), which means swimming temperatures will be untenable without significant ice swimming conditioning (see the “Training” section for more on that).
Indoor: Though it seems less adventurous, indoor swimming in temperature controlled pools is by far the safest way to enjoy winter swimming. Knowing that the area in which you’re swimming is a precise, uniform temperature provides a welcome sense of security when you’re pushing your body to limits it’s not built to endure.
If you bristle when walking into a shower that’s not the perfect temperature, you’ve got a long way to go before you’ll be ready to compete in a winter or ice swimming expedition, but don’t worry that’s normal.
To get started, try turning your shower nozzle a little farther to the right each day for about a week. Once you’re comfortable standing in the coldest temperature your plumbing will allow for minutes on end, you’re ready to take your first dip.
Venturing out in the early autumn months, when the water’s still reasonably warm, but still much colder than July or August, is a good way to get slowly acclimated to the sport.
If you don’t have a lot of meat on your bones, it would behoove you to put on 10-15 pounds. We’re mammals after all and a little excess fat does wonders for holding body heat.
WARNING: This training regiment should be undertaken over the course of months, not days or weeks. The risks of hypothermia, heart attack, or death are very high when the human body is suddenly immersed in frigid waters. Take this preparation seriously.
Once you’ve conditioned your body to withstand the brutal temperatures of cold weather swimming, you’ll probably want some recognition.
You can attain that one of two ways: You can jump in a lake and not tape it and feel good about the fact that you’ve accomplished something you set out to or, if you’re the type who likes accolades and trophies on the mantel, you can apply to be recognized as an official ice swimmer by the International Ice Swimming Association.
In order to do so, you must have two spectators submit affidavits providing testimonials of the swim, information about water temperature, distance swam, air temperature, wind chill, location, safety measures, and any other significant conditions.
And you’ve got to send along a high-quality visual recording (photo or video) of the event.
Hey, if it was easy everyone would do it. We’re not totally clear on whether winter swims count, so contact the Association before you take any dives.
Now that you’re a well-conditioned International Ice Swimming Association officially recognized member of the ice swimming community, you can contact said Ice Swimming Association for information on a plethora of ice swimming events held worldwide.
If you’re in the mood for a nice casual winter swim, you can check out events like the Chesapeake Bay Plungefest.
Winter swims like this one are open to all and are usually held around the holidays in every cold town across the US. Many are associated with charities so you’ll be doing good while building your swimming resume.
Extreme Polar Bear Plunges
One of the most exhilarating ways to burn off some energy and have a blast during the winter months is to take a “polar bear plunge” — jump into a freezing pond, river or ocean.
As your body scrambles to adapt to the drastic temperature drop, you may feel an Adrenaline surge like you’ve never felt before.
Here are five extreme polar bear plunges you can participate in.
Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge
New York’s Coney Island has an old-fashioned, exciting amusement park feel . America’s oldest winter bathing group, the Coney Island Polar Bear Club, keys into that spirit, with club members plunging into the Atlantic every Sunday from November through April.
The main event is New Year’s Day when around 300 thrill-seekers from around New York and the rest of America participate. Before anyone can make a dash for the waves, the master of ceremonies, Chief Polar Bear, gathers entrants by blowing a conch shell.
The club owes its existence to the efforts of bodybuilder Bernarr McFadden, who founded it in 1903. Macfadden was known as the “Father of Physical Culture.” An early champion of nutritious food and exercise, he believed that regular cold water plunges were healthy and stamina-boosting.
Courage Polar Bear Dip
You might think that Canadians have so much exposure to cold weather that they would avoid sub-zero water, but you are mistaken. Canada has a wealth of cold water plunges, including the Courage Polar Bear Dip, which runs at Coronation Park in Oakville, Ontario.
The Courage kicked off for the first time in 1985 and blossomed into Canada’s biggest charity polar bear plunge, enticing hundreds of stoic swimmers and thousands of observers.
According to the organizers, some attendees come for the buzzing festival atmosphere while others want to ring in the new year by doing something extreme.
All the funds raised go towards clean water projects through the charity group World Vision Canada.
Vancouver Polar Bear Swim
Vancouver, BC’s annual Polar Bear Swim runs from the local picnic spot English Bay. The club debuted back in 1920 and was run by Peter Pantages, a nephew of the famous Vaudeville age theater impresario, Alexander Pantages.
Then, just 10 swimmers braved the bay. In 2000, a record 2,128 swimmers turned up and that record stood until 2011, when reportedly 2,230 daredevils took the plunge.
Anyone with the drive to continue the tradition must register in front of the English Bay Bathhouse between 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. on New Year’s Day. Some extra bold swimmers have taken the plunge in costumes of Elvis, Santa Claus and a family of Vikings.
Lewes Polar Bear Plunge
The Lewes Polar Bear Plunge ranks as one of Delaware’s most popular events. “The uniqueness of this event, unlike many others, is that it spans all genders, age groups, income levels, and every demographic area of the state, with participation extending beyond our state’s borders,” the organizers say.
Last year, the plunge that takes place off buzzing Rehoboth Beach lured almost 4,000 swimmers, raising over $650,000 for Special Olympics Delaware.
The ice was first ritualistically broken back in 1982 when Dave “Da Bear” Frederick led the charge, breaching the Atlantic off Cape Henlopen State Park.
For a warm-up, swimmers can participate in the 5K Run to the Plunge.
Seattle Polar Bear Plunge
In famously rainy Seattle, people apparently just cannot get enough of water. The Seattle Polar Bear Plunge was the brainchild of a local aquatic center manager, Janet Wilson. Since its launch in 2003, attendance has swelled to almost 1,000 brave plungers.
According to the organizers, there are two types of plungers. The first likes to hang out for a while in the freezing water, while the second just takes a quick dip before grabbing a towel and rekindling some warmth.
The organizers also warn participants not to drink any alcohol, because, contrary to popular belief, it provokes a condition too extreme even for the keenest winter sports enthusiast: hypothermia.
Does Ice Swimming sound a bit too extreme for you? Then maybe you should check out our post on Open Water Swimming instead.