Vicki McLeod will be presenting her pictures of “wild swimming” at an online women’s Zoom event, YakFest, on April 5. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Vicki McLeod will be presenting her pictures of “wild swimming” at an online women’s Zoom event, YakFest, on April 5. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

‘Wild swimming’ offers a cure for the COVID-19 blues

Nanaimo blogger Vicki McLeod among a growing number touting the benefits of a cold water plunge

The cure for the COVID-19 blues was as close as a dip at the nearest beach for one Nanaimo woman.

A healthy, strong swimmer, McLeod was invited by to try a full-moon swim at a local beach in late November. The idea gave her pause.

“I’d only lived here for about six months when COVID hit, so it’s been difficult to meet new people and develop community,” McLeod said. “I had never really considered swimming in winter and only very occasionally gone swimming outdoors at night. Honestly, at first it seemed like a crazy idea to me, but I decided ‘What the heck,’ and took the plunge.”

McLeod said the first time she ran into the water and immediately ran back out.

“I am sure I wasn’t in for more than 30 seconds,” she said. “I was amazed at how shockingly cold it was. Despite the cold, there was something really beautiful about being in the sea at night, and even though my fingers and feet were particularly painful and numb I felt remarkably good afterward.”

Now, when McLeod wants to chill out, she takes a polar bear approach. While the idea of “wild swimming” — swimming in any natural body of water – isn’t a new concept, taking to a lake, river, pond or the open Pacific in the dead of winter or even early spring may sound extreme.

But still, there’s a growing interest in year-round wild swimming, including winter swimming in northern climates.

McLeod connects with other experienced swimmers, meeting up a couple of times a week – masking up and keeping their distance. McLeod is building up her time in the water and her tolerance for the cold, staying in for up to 10 minutes.

According to seatemperature.info, the Pacific temperature in Nanaimo ranges from an average of seven degrees Celsius in the winter to an average of 17 degrees Celsius in the summer.

“Throughout the year, the water temperature in Nanaimo does not rise above 20°C/68°F and therefore is not suitable for comfortable swimming,” the site says.

That’s putting it mildly. Wild swimming is only recommended for experienced, healthy swimmers with company. Individuals with health issues, such as heart conditions, blood pressure problems or asthma should consult their physician on the advisability of wild swimming.

“Tolerance is very individual, however, and cold-water swimming, or dipping, is definitely a shock to the system,” McLeod said.

At any time of year, wild swimming can be dangerous, McLeod noted. In the winter, cold and hypothermia present heightened risk.

“It’s very important that you know how to swim, for example, and that you know your limits,” she said. “A wild swimmer needs to be aware of things like tide, waves, current and water temperature. Generally, it’a good practice to swim with a buddy, and certainly do not swim alone at night.”

A healthy respect for the environment and those that share it is also important, she added, citing the time she had to avoid a raft of sea lions.

In addition to a bathing suit, there is other recommended gear. Neoprene gloves—available at sporting goods stores or surf shops—help, as do water shoes or diving boots, especially on rocky beaches. Cover-ups for changing to get warm and dry immediately afterward are important, and swimmers beat a path to their car right away, she said.

Just a few months into her new passion, McLeod swears by the touted benefits of cold-water swimming: burning calories, boosting the immune system, increasing circulation, reducing inflammation and offering a natural high through endorphin release and the painkilling effect of the cold.

“For me, the most significant impact is on my mood,” said McLeod. “I find a winter dip brings me completely into the present moment, pushing all other concerns and worries out of my head. I become immediately and exquisitely aware of my breathing, my limbs and the water and sky that surround me. This is a huge positive boost that last for hours afterward.”

McLeod’s blog can be read here. To learn more about wild swimming and to get important safety information and other tips, visit this website.

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.

RELATED: Cold water swimming a morning ritual for Oak Bay crew

RELATED: Victoria swimmer ends Strait attempt early

authorNanaimoPORT ALBERNI

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kalesnikoff Lumber will be providing materials for a 21-storey apartment building in Vancouver. Rendering: Henriquez Partners Architects
Kalesnikoff supplying mass timber for several major projects

The West Kootenay lumber company will be making the products at South Slocan facility

School District 8 superintendent Christine Perkins will leave for Vernon’s school district at the end of the academic year. Photo: Submitted
School District 8 superintendent Christine Perkins resigns

Perkins is leaving to take over another district

The Kootenay Lake ferry terminals will receive a number of upgrades this year. File photo
Kootenay Lake ferry terminals to receive upgrades

The transportation ministry announced the $5.5-million project Thursday

Selkirk College has received provincial funding to assist students. File photo
Selkirk College receives funding to assist students

Provincial funding is available to West Kootenay students

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

North Cowichan councillor Tek Manhas did not violate the municipality’s code of conduct by posting a sexist meme on Facebook, council concludes. (File photo)
B.C. municipality to take no action against councillor who posted sexist meme

Tek Manhas’s meme doesn’t violate North Cowichan council’s code of conduct, municipality concludes

—Image: contributed
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians says that includes attempts to steal Canadian research on COVID-19 and vaccines, and sow misinformation. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Intelligence committee warns China, Russia targeting Canadian COVID-19 research

Committee also found that the terrorist threat to Canada has shifted since its last such assessment

Part of the massive mess left behind in a Spallumcheen rental home owned by Wes Burden, whose tenants bolted from the property in the middle of the night. Burden is now facing a hefty cleaning and repair bill as a result. (Photo submitted)
Tenants disappear in the night leaving Okanagan home trashed with junk, feces

Spallumcheen rental rooms filled with junk, human and animal feces; landlord scared to rent again

Parliament Hill is viewed below a Canada flag in Gatineau, Quebec, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. A new poll suggests most Canadians are feeling more grateful for what they have in 2020 as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions increased slightly in 2019: report

2019 report shows Canada emitted about one million tonnes more of these gases than the previous year

Most Read