The Mind-Clearing Magic of Cold Water Swimming
Last fall, my friend Lucy Laucht felt adrift — she had recently lost her father, her mother was suffering from Alzheimer’s, and her marriage had broken down. “Everything that could happen was happening,” she said. “I was on a journey to figure out who I was again.” The surprising thing that helped most? Swimming in very, very cold water…
Her first cold swim was in October 2020, when a friend living near her in Cornwall, England, suggested wading into the freezing ocean — also known as cold water swimming, winter swimming or wild swimming. “I was terrified,” Lucy remembers. “I made such a song and dance about it.” But she finally forced herself to walk into the water. When she got out, she felt euphoric.
After that, the friends swam every morning — even on the coldest December days. Lucy wears a swimsuit and stays in for 6 or 7 minutes. “Your skin burns. It feels really good. You just feel alive. In that moment of surrender, I can literally think of nothing else other than, OH MY GOD. It clears your mind of everything else.”
More and more women have gathered together to swim. “I went last week with a group of girls, and it was just magical. The sun was rising over the horizon, and I could see steam rising off our skin in the water. I was like, wow, what an incredible thing to be able to do.” Other days, Lucy prefers swimming alone. “Pulling through the water, ducking my head under the waves — I love the peacefulness of it.”
When I was talking with her on the phone, I kept saying that I couldn’t imagine tolerating the cold water. She laughed: “People are always like, oh my god, are you mad? But it’s funny because once you’ve conquered it and practiced it, it doesn’t feel immense anymore. Once you do it, all the fear goes away. And that’s everything in life, right?”
Would you ever swim in cold water? If you’d like to start, make sure to go with other people at first. “When you get in the water, you can have this involuntary gasp,” explains Lucy. So, go with a partner until you’re confident enough to read the water and know your body’s reactions.
And if you’re not able to swim in the ocean, Lucy suggests cold showers, which have a similar effect. “It shocks your body a little bit,” she says. “Pro tip!”
Thank you so much, Lucy! Check out her print shop here, if you’d like.
P.S. On happiness, and the beauty uniform of a polar explorer.
(Photos of Lucy by Victoria Harrison; all other photos by Lucy Laucht.)