Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Wild Swimming in Seattle

My new passion started as a polar bear-style plunge, a quick dip in and out of the chilly sea near my home.

Inspired by a friend who was doing plunges and posting about it on FaceBook, I decided to join her in late January 2020. (I was also inspired by this lovely British film by Hannah Maia.)

When it's 47 degrees F° outside and the water is even colder, a plunge is an instant wake-up. I'M HERE, IT'S COLD, AND I MUST MOVE!

Despite the cold, I quickly got hooked on that bracing sense of exhilaration, that feeling that you've done something epic after swimming in the sea, even if just a few strokes.

The very first plunge. January 2020.

So I started going almost every week, and sometimes a good friend joined me. Despite wind and waves, we'd wade out to waist deep water, then plunge in and swim in a circle and back to shore. My very slender friend Maryann, who has much less natural insulation than I do, somehow managed to stay in longer every time.

Come March, when the world started going sideways and the pandemic lockdown started, this weekly ritual became even more important. It provided a sense of outdoors adventure and excitement when we were told stay home except for shopping for essentials. 

Last spring, these weekly plunges became a vestige of normalcy. On nice days, Maryann and I would sit on the beach (distanced) and enjoyed the warmth and sunshine before and after. Often we would stop and get hot tea and a scone afterwards at Miri's, the little cafe on the beach at Golden Gardens.

Surveying the sea, getting ready to swim

 A few times we went over to Lake Washington, which was somewhat warmer. In the summer, with swimming pools still closed, it was heavenly to swim, like really  swim, in the pleasantly cool lake.

As the year progressed, sometimes I'd miss a few weeks here and there, but getting back out there got my juices going again. Last summer, we went over to Bainbridge Island for a plunge, with a view back across to Seattle. I started shooting short little videos that I dropped on YouTube (Bainbridge below):

Earlier this year, after noticing a big group of much more hard-core swimmers than us on the beach, we went up to ask them about how they do it. As we approached, I heard "Jill!" (my name). It was long-time neighbors who live across the street. 
They started a little after us last year, and their group has ballooned to sometimes 25 swimmers, real swimmers, most with wetsuits and floats, who swim for 30 minutes or more (see the video below).
So now I'm teetering on the verge of becoming a true open water swimmer. I'm slowly upping my time in the water each week. 
But it's still baby steps. An exception was a couple days ago, when I stayed in almost 15 minutes (video below). The infamous "heat dome" that lingered over the Pacific Northwest raised the Puget Sound water temperatures near the surface to well over 60 degrees (in the winter and spring, it's in the 40s).

While Seattle is known for having some world class open water swimmers, I'd like to up my game. Besides the challenge and camaraderie, "wild swimming" offers a host of health benefits.

So we'll see. It's still daunting and a bit scary to me. I don't aspire to swim across Puget Sound from, say, West Seattle to Bremerton like some do. But every increase brings a sense of accomplishment and, dare I say, well-being.

How about you? Have you done any serious open water swimming or even just plunges?

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