KAIO EXPERIENCE INTERVIEW SERIES N°1 – COLD WATER SWIMMING
Why do you love being in the water so much? How do you experience water? Supporting your experience of being in the water is our biggest motivation. To understand it better, we’ll explore the bond between women and water through a series of interviews and photo reportages that will span through the summer.
“IN THE COLD WATER, YOU HAVE TO BE WHO YOU REALLY ARE.”
Have you ever wondered about the people who enter water easily in the middle of winter? Were you telling yourself: “This isn’t for me! How can they even do it?”
On this International Women’s Day, we’re delighted to introduce Gerda, Janet, Katerina and Lisa of the Winter Swimming group who will challenge any preconceived ideas you might have about cold water swimming. This group meets at least once a week during the cold months of the year to swim in the waters of the Vierwaldstättersee in Lucerne. We joined them mid-February for their weekly Saturday morning session at the Ufschötti beach. After a wonderful swim, we talked about their passion for cold water swimming around a warm cup of coffee.
kaio swim: Can you introduce yourself and tell us about how the Winter Swimming group got together?
Gerda: I started the group in 2018 after having discovered cold water swimming in 2017 when I mainly did it on my own. I thought it would be nicer to do it together with other people. Since I’m a yoga teacher, I started communicating to my classes and students. Then, I found the LiLi Centre, which is right next to the lake and it was the perfect location to have as a base for the group. Since this is an international community center, the group became bigger and bigger. With the growing interest, I created the website together with another member. It’s a great platform to communicate around cold water swimming and share information. The majority of our members are women, but there are men joining too.
Janet: I joined the group 4 years ago. I was looking for a group to start winter swimming because I saw a documentary about treating depression with alternative solutions and cold water swimming was highly recommended. I occasionally deal with seasonal depression and this was why I started. Since then it has helped me tremendously, not only with my mental health, but with my physical health as well. And the social aspect is also great!
Lisa: I joined the group thanks to Gerda’s mindfulness group and she introduced me to it in 2019. It’s really funny looking back as I started in September when the water was 19 degrees, and I was already screaming going in. Today, it was 7 degrees and it was totally fine.
Katerina: I heard about Winter Swimming from a friend who told me about this group of crazy people going into the lake in winter. I started in 2020 with one day a week. Now I also do it on my own a few times a week. I love it, because I really feel alive in the moment when I’m in the water. My mind completely shuts down. And the people around are very nice too.
KS: Can you tell us more about your practice? What are its benefits and the risks associated with it?
G: There’s a whole big list of benefits. The more common ones are the mental health and physical health benefits. To name a few: strengthened immune system, increased circulation, better sleep, faster sport recovery, etc.. Like with every sport, if you take it to the extreme, it can also become risky. For some, you can get short-term nerve damage if you overdo it. I had once frost manifestations on my toes. Although, this is not extreme damage, it shows that you have to be careful about it. And of course, when you are in the water, there’s always the related risk of drowning. Where our group goes, it’s very safe as the bottom remains shallow. However, you can get most of these benefits by just being in cold water for a few minutes. That’s already enough. In this case, the longer isn’t the better.
KS: What makes cold water swimming so special to you?
G: I was fascinated by the fact of doing something that my head told me was impossible. How can you, in the middle of winter, take off your clothes and even go into the water? I’m someone who is often cold in winter, and the challenge motivated me. The health aspects, such as for the immune system and the circulation, were also a factor.
J: I think for me it’s the combination of the physical and mental challenge. I can do it whenever I want to and I don’t have to work out like hell. I have the social aspect of the group. I’m with people, I’m in nature and it’s for free. That’s wonderful! And whenever I come out of the water, I just feel like super woman, like “I did it”! Sometimes when I’m in the water, I just think if I can do this, I can do everything. It makes me feel empowered and strong. And that’s great.
L: The connection to nature. I’m from Asia and I lived in big cities most of my life. For me, swimming in the lake is one thing, swimming in a freezing lake is another thing. I conquer big barriers when getting into the cold water. Lately, I just jumped into a mountain lake. It was simply too appealing to me. All the tourists were taking pictures of me, the crazy lady! But in that moment, it was just me and the lake, it wasn’t about the others.
K: It makes me feel like a completely new person. I feel very strong. I can think more clearly when I’m out of the water. It gives you that extra energy which is why I like to do it in the morning.
KS: Do you have a particular bond to water?
G: I grew up close to a lake and water was always available. When I was a kid, I always spent hours in the water in summer. For a few years, I lost that connection while studying and working. I didn’t take the time anymore and felt something was missing. With cold water swimming I rediscovered my love of water. I really like the combination of water and mountains. In this combination, I feel energized. That’s why I organize hiking trips to cold mountain lakes in the summer for the group.
L: For me, water is different. When I immerse in the water, even when the water is warm, I feel that special sensation of being under the water on my skin. In the water, it’s also easier to meditate and clear my mind. Water is an amazing element.
K: Where I grew up, there was no water around whatsoever. So the first time I saw the sea was when I was 12 years old in Croatia. So now, when I’m close to the lake, I enjoy it to the fullest. But I don’t really like crowds when I have to walk over bodies to get to the lake. So that’s why winter swimming gives me the perfect combination of the possibility to be in the water.
KS: What brings you joy when you’re in the water?
G: The change of weather atmosphere. Sometimes I just go to the lake and feel the wind and watch the clouds. I really like to go in the water in every weather. Under sun, rain, snow, when it’s freezing… Ok, maybe not during dangerous storms. It connects me to life, to nature.
L: It’s really the whole hormone rush. Whether it’s dopamine, serotonin, endorphine… all rush in right after because it’s painful. In the beginning, you can really feel pain on the skin and when you conquer that pain, you kind of have that dopamine rush. I feel proud of myself because I have overcome something difficult. I can do anything. I connect to the nature again. I cannot really describe that serenity that I get when in the water.
K: It’s also very peaceful for me when I’m in the lake. It’s only you and nothing else. Of course, I’m challenging myself getting in, but when I’m in the water it’s just nice. And when I come out, I’m full of energy. It’s great!
KS: What would you say to convince Chollada to enter the water? To someone who is convinced she cannot make it?
K: You just need to take it one step at a time. Because once you started with the first step and then the next, suddenly you’re in the water and you refuse to leave. So as long as you have a body and you want to try, you can do it!
G: I think it definitely helps with a group. Alone is much more difficult. The weather also plays a role. Start when it’s sunny, so it’s easier to warm up and get changed and psychologically it feels much easier as well.
L: You have to take it as a challenge and make a commitment. Because the beginning part is the hardest one. You don’t want to do it, but you have to force yourself to it and after you did it, the feeling is great! And seriously, your life will change.
KS: Gerda, can you tell us more about the device that you always wear into the water?
G: The safety aspect is central to me. I discovered a company called Restube and the principle works like an airbag. If anything happens, you can pull the rope and it blows up an inflatable buoy. Now I always take it with me. There are different models depending on the use. I have another one which serves more for a lifeguard. When you pull the string, you have this inflatable buoy which another person can hold onto. Especially if you go on your own, I would recommend you to take one of them. Luckily, so far, we ever had any issue and I hope it continues like this.
KS: Thank you so much for sharing your passion with us!
During the session, Gerda wore the TRIANGLE bikini in Ocean, Janet the ONE WAVE swimsuit in black, Lisa the PLUNGE swimsuit in tender green, Katerina the PLUNGE swimsuit in midnight and Joanna the ONE WAVE swimsuit in Terre Rouge.