BY TOBY PORTER
Just taking your clothes off outside in winter is bad enough. But to then plunge willingly into freezing cold water should be one of the first signs of insanity.
Apparently, swimming in cold water boosts the immune system, improves circulation and triggers endorphins. Sure, but none of those is much help if you die of shock.
None of these considerations seem to deter people around this time of year from a batty Baltic bathe at Tooting Lido, global warming or no global warming.
The hardest bit might be remembering to breathe after immersing yourself in liquid colder than Queen Victoria’s underwear drawer.
But then there’s climbing out, into the air, penguins huddle to avoid.
Up to 800 people will mob the pool on January 26 for the 100 races of the eighth UK Cold Water Swimming Championships.
This year it also includes a mass sponsored jump-in for Crisis at 9am – a sort of ice bucket challenge without remorse.
It puts the fool into hardy. It’s not swimming – it’s drowning with style.
Hosts the South London Swimming Club (SLSC) supervise with a certain relish as fast and slow, young and old, as well as the silly and the serious brave freezing waters to take part in the UK’s largest freshwater, unheated pool.
And wetsuits are banned. More than 800 hardy souls from 17 nations took part in the last event in 2017.
All races take place in water as low as 1C, and 2019’s highlights include:
- the Best Hat competition – but be careful, because it has to stay in place for the full race,
- the 30-metre head-up breaststroke,
- the freestyle dash four-person team relay competition
Once swimmers have braved the chilly waters, they can apparently thaw out in the Finnish sauna and hot tub. Needless to say, the purists think this is for wimps.
The more sensible spectators, who keep their clothes on, can enjoy a hog roast, pizza, coffee and hot drinks, or visit the pop-up pub featuring two drinks’ companies Graveney Gin and By The Horns Brewery.
There is also a heated North Pole marquee with stalls offering swimming holidays, the latest swim gear and local crafts.
The 2019 Championships features Change Please, a coffee van training homeless people to become baristas, and Well Kneaded the Pizza, a company that provides internships to help marginalised young people into employment.
Championships organiser Margy Sullivan said: “SLSC enjoys bringing together swimmers of all abilities to experience and enjoy cold water swimming at the UK’s oldest and largest fresh water lido.
This event really will be a festival of swimming. Go on everyone, be brave enough to be a sprinter this winter.”
GIBC Digital’s chief executive Greg Wood said: “There is no better physical reflection of the drive and tenacity needed by business today than to take part in the Cold Water Swimming Championships.
“GIBC Digital is proud to sponsor the event and help raise money for Crisis, an organisation that offers year-round services helping people take their first steps out of homelessness.”
The races are on January 26, at Tooting Bec Lido. Entry for spectators is £3 per person. Team and individual entries are welcome. Early registration is recommended as places are limited.
Sign up online at www.slsc.org.uk/cwsc