Winter swimming is an increasingly popular winter sport among Estonians. Is it because Estonian winters are no longer full of snow or is it just a need for something other than skiing?
In Estonia, the water temperature rarely exceeds 20 degrees even in the summer. So for some visitors swimming here might seem like a dip in icy water. But the best Nordic swimming can be experiences from November to March when the water temperature is somewhere around 1 degree Celsius, the water under an icy cap and the surroundings covered in snow.
Winter swimming isn't a simple dip in icy water. It's more than just an impulsive and quick plunge. We often jump into an ice hole following a hot sauna and then run back as fast as we can. It's charming and fun and is deeply rooted in sauna traditions. However, winter swimming is an endurance sport where the main focus is on strengthening the mind. Every time you step through snow towards a hole cut in the icy water, every time you have calmly stepped into water and reminded yourself that calm breathing is the key, you are a winner. A winner in itself!
And every time you stay there a little longer and go a bit further – you slide into icy water that feels like fire, push away icy chunks and feel the calmness taking over your body. You know that humans are not made to survive freezing water but you are nevertheless able to push those boundaries within yourself. You don't feel the need to swim to shore but rather enjoy the feeling of the iciness slowly and gently pinching at your skin. You calmly breathe in and out, look at the empty snow fields around you and listen to the silence of winter.
Coming out of the water, you feel stronger than before, body and mind alike. Cold water gives the body an unexpected rush of energy. For the next few days, no problem seems without a solution and no mountains go unconquered. You are more assured and radiate. Soon enough you begin to notice that the typical runny nose during winter is no longer runny, you no longer feel cold waiting for the bus and the flu doesn't seem to take you down. Maybe it's the Estonian traditional flu shot and vitamin?
The Winter Swimming World Championships 2018 will be held in Tallinn, in honour of the national centennial. The biggest event in the history of winter swimming world championships will take place March 6th - 10th in the Old City Marina. Swimmers of all ages can compete in various timed strokes, freestyle, and team relays. You might want to start preparing now. Or just don't stop swimming after the summer has gone – go on swimming the whole year round! Winter swimming clubs are located in every bigger city but passionate enthusiasts can be found in every corner of Estonia. The Pirita Open is also an international, annual winter swimming festival taking place. To give icy swimming a try, contact a winter swimming club and take your first dip.
If you're interested in finding out about the sport side of winter swimming, come over and compete or just watch. Everyone is invited!