Archive for April, 2010

06
Apr
10

Winter swimming in Sweden

Jumping nude into near freezing sea water easily takes the cake for being the craziest thing I’ve done so far. I was in Sweden in December and I just couldn’t leave without doing something very Swedish in winter, could I? I had read a little bit about the reaction of the human body to such an extreme temperature of water and it didn’t seem to be too bad if done only for a few minutes

So when I heard about an ancient public bathhouse in Malmo, Sweden where people for decades have been taking winter baths in the, I couldn’t resist trying it. Being the shy Indian male that I am, my biggest worry before experiencing a Scandinavian winter was not the frigid waters but being completely nude in the bathhouse with other people.

While packing in Pilani I had carefully chosen the best warm clothing for the expected snow in Copenhagen, with the exception of the lycra swimming trunks. But all my enthusiasm was drained out in the snow and wind of Copenhagen. On my second day in Copenhagen for the UN summit, I spent 3 hours standing out in near freezing (2 degrees Celsius) temperatures with bad gloves and ear muffs. Standing out in the cold for three hours is much harder than it sounds and when the cute Nigerian reporter in front of me in the queue left after two hours, all I had pushing me to endure the pain was the fear of being jibed by the middle aged European people silently waiting to reach the doors of the Bella Centre (unbeknownst to us, it would take six long hours in the queue).

Oh boy the snow just looks pretty; it was never intended for people who have lived all their lives near a tropical sea. By the middle of the week I was tired of always being wet and cold. And when I caught a cold I was quite sure my heart would give out if I jumped into the sea, so when I landed in Malmo I decided I was not going to do it.

Fortunately for me, my couchsurfing host lived right on the beach and ten minutes from the bathhouse. Every time I got out of her home, I saw the bathhouse taunting me from the distance. So on my third day in Sweden, I just decided to go for it. The outside temperature was a warm -ve 5 degrees Celsius.

Until I was right inside the bathhouse, I had forgotten about the rule of no clothes allowed in bathhouse. I walked unprepared into a busy room filled with old and young nude men, strutting about and chatting. Even with my swimming trunks, I felt as overdressed as wearing a business suit to a nightclub. After a few minutes of hesitancy I realized I wouldn’t be meeting any of these people again, so I just took everything off.

With a 57 year old man egging me, I cleared some floating ice and stepped into the frigid sea. The pang of pain I felt in my limbs was unbearable for the few seconds before I felt my heart nearly stop when my chest went underwater. My hands were numb; my body felt light and heavy at the same time; I could barely hold on to the rails and then my head slowly slipped underwater. The feeling underwater was of infinite lightness and non-existence of time. It was extraordinary.

Freezing sea in Malmo, Sweden

Notice the floating ice.

I think I survived for 30-40 seconds in the water and felt quite exhausted after the experience. I then walked into the 50 degrees sauna, which turned the entire bathing experience into the best thing I had done in Sweden. And my nose was mysteriously unblocked and my sore throat had miraculously disappeared.

I’m not sure if I would do it again, I still need to start loving snow, but this is something that should be tried out once. Don’t think, just jump. Remember it is healthy.

Ice swimming article on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_swimming
Read this for preparation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_shock_response

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