Belfast Telegraph

Increasing numbers enjoying sea swimming all year round

Regular sea swimmers say the cold has both mental and physical health benefits.

Team Dash and Splash swimmers getting into the Irish Sea (Liam McBurney/PA)
Team Dash and Splash swimmers getting into the Irish Sea (Liam McBurney/PA)

Scores of people are set to take to the sea this week for annual Boxing Day dips, but a growing number of cold water enthusiasts hit the water all year round.

Northern Ireland’s coastlines are dotted with cold water swimmers who go out no matter what the weather or temperature.

It is a trend that is growing across the UK, with membership of the Outdoor Swimming Society having increased from just 300 in 2006 to more than 25,000 in 2016.

Cold water plunges are believed to have physical health benefits, including strengthening the nervous system as well as mental health benefits.

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Team Dash and Splash swimmers Alex Mellon (left) and April Alexandra Galbraith (Liam McBurney/PA)

While some swimmers don wetsuits, there are a growing number of groups who insist on “skins only”, ie swimming suits.

The Donaghadee Chunky Dunkers in Co Down is one of the longest running groups in Northern Ireland.

It includes younger and older swimmers, both male and female, with a range of abilities who swim every day come rain, hail or even snow.

Martin Strain said the group has been going informally for eight years, but has grown extensively in the last three years.

He said the cold water plunges have helped members who battle mental health issues.

In Bangor, the Brompton Belles and Beaux have a hard core who swim every morning at 8am as well as members who swim at different points throughout the day.

Marie-Therese Davis-Hanson started the group in 2017 and said numbers have rocketed.

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Dash and Splash founder Scott Riley said it started with a Facebook post in October 2017 (Liam McBurney/PA)

One of the newest groups is Team Dash and Splash, whose members run along the coastline before a cold plunge at Pickie Beach in Bangor every Sunday morning.

Member and former Olympic swimmer Andrew Bree said it has been a big change from the warm indoor pools of his competitive career.

“The water temperature gets down to around four/five degrees in February and March here,” he said.

“I got injured in 2012 and left the sport not the way I wanted to and I think that affected me, but now I have found that love for the water again.

“It strips the ego, when you get into the cold, there is no room for the past, there is no room for thoughts, you are focused on the present moment.

“My benefit was definitely mental, but there has also been a cardiovascular benefit, I have taken up more running and things I didn’t use to do. I come from a swimming background but I never liked running.

“I think it’s from the cold, you are pumping that blood through the body, I just feel overall really good from it.”

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Team Dash and Splash swimmers Ian (left) and Stephen Baxter-Crawford (Liam McBurney/PA)

Dash and Splash founder Scott Riley said it started with a Facebook post in October 2017.

“I was going for a run and sea swim anyway, I got really interested in the health benefits of cold water and I was training to become a Wim Hof method instructor at that time which is a breathing and cold training technique for strengthening the nervous system,” he said.

“The first week, 15 people turned up. It has grown and grown ever since. Even in January/February there were 20-30 people turning up each week.

“At our anniversary swim in October we had 70 people taking part.

“There seems to be a push towards more outdoor activity, I think people intuitively know that it’s good for them, and maybe a societal shift where back in the day kids used to go out and get involved in nature, then computers came along and people got more indoor-oriented,  but now the pendulum is shifting back and people are realising that getting outdoors makes you happier, healthier and stronger.”

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