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

Oliver Fire Department. (Submitted photo)
Football-field-sized wildfire scorches hill above Osoyoos Lake

The department also responded to another fire along the hike and bike trail on the weekend

Prospera Place in Kelowna. (Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze)
Kelowna Rockets return to the ice after COVID-19 quarantine

All individuals within the team cohort tested negative for COVID-19 earlier this week

(Phil McLachlan/Capital News/Stock)
Man arrested in West Kelowna for stealing police bait car

The suspect has been identified as Raymond Francis Thiffault of Kamloops, who already had an outstanding Canada-wide warrant.

Rose Valley Elementary School. (Contributed)
Central Okanagan School sees second COVID-19 exposure in two days

An exposure was identified at Rose Valley Elementary on April 12 and 13

(Natalia Cuevas-Huaico - Kelowna Capital News)
Arlene Howe holds up a picture of her son, Steven, at a memorial event for drug overdose victims and their families at Kelowna’s Rotary Beach Park on April 14. Steven died of an overdose at the age of 32 on Jan. 31, 2015. (Aaron Hemens - Kelowna Capital News)
Moms Stop the Harm members placed crosses Wednesday morning, April 14, on Rotary Beach in memory of children lost to drug overdoses. (Aaron Hemens - Capital News)
Kelowna mothers remember children lost to the opioid crisis

It has been five years since illicit drug deaths was announced a public health emergency

desert hills estate winery grapes
Osoyoos winery back in business after clean bill of health

Desert Hills chose to temporarily close after a close contact tested positive for COVID

A screenshot from a Nuu-chah-nulth healing song and performance created in collaboration between Hjalmer Wenstob and Timmy Masso. (Screenshot from YouTube)
WATCH: Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation brothers produce COVID-19 healing song

Hjalmer Wenstob and Timmy Masso share dance and inspiration.

Health Canada headquarters in Ottawa. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Health Canada releases guidelines for reducing COVID-19 transmission at home

Improve indoor air quality by opening up your windows and doors, among the encouraged ventilation measures

Hikers are still able to climb to the top of Giant’s Head Mountain in Summerland, but the paved road to the upper parking lot will be closed from 7 a.m. to noon and all day on Sundays. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
Summerland park partially closed to vehicle traffic

Giant’s Head Mountain Park gates will be closed to cars until noon

Young cyclists from Quebec have not been riding single file on Naramata’s narrow and windy roads, causing the ire of locals worried for their safety and theirs. (Dan Moskaluk)
Quebec cyclists bad road behaviour causing stir in Penticton

The young cycling group illegally riding two-abreast on Naramata’s narrow roads

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

MP Todd Doherty took to Facebook after his family recently received threats. (Todd Doherty, MP Facebook photo)
‘I don’t run and I don’t hide’: Cariboo MP says RCMP probing threats made against family

Todd Doherty has also notified House of Commons Protective Services

Two men walk past a sign on Main Street in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Calls for government transparency in COVID data continue as B.C.’s 3rd wave wears on

Social media, where both information and misinformation can spread like wildfire, has not helped

Most Read