Butt-Naked Ice Swimming
Ice swimming is exactly what the two words denote: swimming which requires cutting a hole in a frozen crust of ice in order to gain access to a body or pool of 0 °C water. Supposedly ice swimming is possible because the water beneath the ice releases heat, so the water does not instantly refreeze.
Within this sport some swimmers use swimwear, others wear weird costumes like you see on Halloween, and over a third love jumping in the ice-cold water in their birthday suit. I guess, come to think of it, in sub-zero weather swimming trunks would probably not offer much protection from the cold anyway. Before exploring the why of swimming in the nude, let’s learn a little about this freestyle swimming.
Because this outdoor bathing or swimming occurs in the middle of winter and is unusual and sometimes ceremonial, it often times attracts media coverage. In the Furthest Under Ice Swim that is in the Guinness Book of World Records, Dutchman Wim Hof swam 57.5 m. (188.6 ft.) underneath three feet of an ice lake near the Finnish village of Kolari, deep inside the Arctic Circle, on March 16, 2000.
Wim Hof, often called the Iceman for his ability for withstanding cold is well known for running marathons in the snow in trunks and being submerged into ice, He is the only non-monk to have mastered Tummo to control one’s body temperature. Now, I’m sure you will agree that this guy is a true athlete that has dedicated his life to the sport of enduring freezing temperatures. While few have pushed their bodies to the extreme level of Wim Hof, many have endured the sport of ice swimming for 20 years and more. However, sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but butt naked ice swimming will not be a part of this Winter Olympics.
I was surprised to see that China participates in ice swimming workouts until I recalled that some regions of China do have cold harsh winters. In northern China, the Chinese brave the ice for good health while swimming takes place in the Songhua River in Harbin. Ice swimming in China started growing in popularity in the 1940’s and includes an estimated 200,000 registered swimmers.
The Coney Island Polar Bears Club is the oldest winter bathing organization in U.S. It was founded in 1903 by Bernarr Macfadden, whose belief was that a dip in the ocean during the winter can be a boon to one’s stamina, virility, and immunity.
Members from America and Canada swim in the Atlantic Ocean. They gather at Coney Island every Sunday at one o’clock sharp, for swimming workouts starting in November through April, and hold an annual plunge on New Year’s Day. Not only do they have fun plunging into the ice-cold waters, but this freestyle swimming team travels as a group, and contributes to charitable fund-raisers as well.
Based on what you’ve read so far, I’m sure that you are still wondering, “Why some people seem to prefer naked ice swimming while others seem to prefer trunks and or funny looking outfits?” Well, let’s take a look at some of the health benefits of this ice sport to see if a clue might be there.
Advocates of ice swimming believe that this type of activity gives them the four V’s: vim, vigor, verve, and vitality. Members feel that it improves circulation and helps to build up the immune system to protect against colds and flu-like symptoms. In addition, many report receiving a strong sense of well-being and natural high.
Some medical researchers’ studies show that ice swimming workouts can help to rehabilitate injuries and some illnesses, however, there is not much proof that it is effective in preventing ill health. A senior medical researcher who is studying the clinical benefits, Juhani Smolander, states, "In studies on rheumatic diseases, cold treatment reduces aches and pains, and in some cases, depending on the treatment, patients can do without painkillers. It doesn’t cure the disease, but it does relieve the symptoms."
Other researchers have found positive psychological impact: people that immerse themselves in the icy waters regularly say they feel better than those that stay indoors all winter long. Yet another group of researchers states that ice swimming builds self-confidence and raises self-esteem that you can do something that you’re afraid of. Others say they’ve experienced health and beauty benefits such as softer and smoother skin.
Naturally anyone with heart conditions, or any other serious ailment, needs to be careful when attempting ice sports. The effects of the freezing water and the accompanying shock to one’s body might be harmful; therefore one should first talk about this activity with your doctor before descending into the icy depths.
Another risk is ensuring safety when going through the transitions of warming up after one takes the icy plunge. Steps that must be taken to avoid causing the body distress from the drastic temperature changes. Heat causes the blood to rise to the surface of the body while the cold forces the blood back inside towards the heart.
In Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia, ice swimming is a tradition connected with the sauna tradition.
It is not to be confused with the Russian dousing because it is not a religious ritual; it is done as a stress reliever and a means of cooling off rapidly after staying in the sauna for a length of time. Finland is well known for its Avantouinti (ice-hole swimming) Society; their ice swimming season begins in October and goes through February.
The Russian ice swimmers are called “walruses” instead of “polar bears” and traditions are strong for freestyle ice swimming and dousing with cold water.
Not only are they done for health benefits, but for sports, for the Baptism of Our Lord feast, and as a ritual for the Orthodox Church. Here’s an article written by BBC’s James Rodgers that will provide you with an inside look at the Russian Walrus Club.
I must admit that seeing butt naked swimmers taking the ice plunge on television was what spurred my research into ice swimming sports. However, I did not find any articles that directly addresses why some ice swimmers prefer to take the plunge butt naked. Because of the revealing nature of some of the pictures and videos I found, I could not post them here, but just Google “butt naked or nude ice swimmers” and you will find what is out on the web. Also Google "Other Polar Bear Clubs & Related Topics" to find links to more clubs and ice swimming activities.
At this point, if I had to provide the reason why an individual would go ice swimming in the buff during cold winter months, I would simply say it's because an individual wanted to do so. I would imagine that their way of thinking might be similar to individuals that choose to moon you or those that just love walking around in the nude.
As with any new exercise program, if you are under a physician's care, please check with your doctor prior to participating in this outdoor game of swimming workouts.
One serious video really caught my attention and hopefully it will raise some thoughts of your own. The video below reflects how global warming has begun to impact the North Pole.
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