In one of my first jobs in Finland people laughed at me when I told them ice swimming was one of my hobbies. ”It’s for old people”, they chortled. Over the years Finns have looked at me shocked and exclaimed that I’m more Finnish than them.
A couple of years ago the BBC ran an article suggesting that sauna is the Finnish equivalent of the British pub. It’s true for me. These days I don’t spend nearly as much time in the pub in Finland as I did in the UK, but I’d say that sauna and ice swimming is the full alternative.
When I was an Erasmus student here, I wasn’t in the pub because it was prohibitively expensive. But for a handful of years now I’ve been at home in the ice-cold water after work and on weekends. I get a lot of the same social benefits of a pub, but with an adrenaline rush and elation (and no after-effects) that a pub simply can’t provide.
I always think ice-swimming is a little bit like task management; confronting a critical to-do item head on and later reaping the mind-clearing benefits of having tackled what weighed most heavily.
Like the walk that you must make gingerly from sauna to end of pier – feet sticking fast with every tread, there’s a fear and sense of reckoning, but once you’re done you stand there and feel anything is possible, as if no challenge is too great.
Ice-swimming is one way I break the winter darkness and it helps me feel closer to nature, riding with her as we creep through winds and across treacherous ice to the more humane pastures of spring.