Cold-water swimming

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Locations of the Ice Sevens swims around the world, governed and ratified by the International Ice Swimming Association
Ice swimming in Murmansk, Russia. Photo by Nuala Moore of Ireland
Nuala Moore doing ice swimming in Russia inside the Arctic Circle at the Polar Olympics
Winter swimming in a pool carved out of a frozen body of water
Winter or Ice swimming by Ram Barkai in Antarctica
Zani Muller and Monika Hayes, winners of the 450m endurance swim at the 2014 International Winter Swimming Competition in Murmansk, Russia

noun - Cold-water swimming is extreme swimming in cold water. It is the activity of swimming during the winter season, typically in outdoor locations (open water swimming) or in unheated pools or lidos. Many cold water swimmers swim with standard swimwear rather than with wetsuits or other thermal protection. The activity may or may not involve freezing water, depending on the geographical location and the local temperature. Famous winter swimmers include Lynne Cox (USA), Ram Barkai (South Africa), Lewis Pugh (South Africa), Alexander Brylin (Russia) and Wang Gang Yi (China).

Cold water swimming is any form of swimming that would be extreme in terms of distance, water temperature or water conditions done in the cold. It may be synonymous with Winter swimming, Extreme swimming or Avantouinti or Ice swimming in colder countries. It can require either breaking the ice or entering where a spring keeps the water from freezing over. This may also be simulated by a pool of water at 0°C, the temperature at which water freezes. Cold-water swimmers typically dip their heads below the surface to ensure that they are completely wet, whether or not the water is over their heads. They usually do not swim beneath the ice, as it is easy to get disoriented when turning around and not be able to find one's way back to the hole. Some ice swimmers avoid this problem by swimming from one hole to another, or by swimming under the ice while tethered to the shore.

Northern Europe

In Finland, Northern Russia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, the cold-water swimming tradition has been connected with the sauna tradition.

Ice swimming on its own is especially popular in Finland. There is an Avantouinti (ice-hole swimming) and the Avantouinti Society.

United Kingdom

Famous locations include the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park, London.


In Harbin, northern China, many ice swim in the Songhua River.


There are strong traditions for cold-water swimming and dousing with cold water in Russia. They are done for health benefits, as a ritual of the Orthodox Church for the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, and for sports. Such club members are called "walruses" (Russian: моржи) instead of "polar bears".

North America

The members of Canadian and American Polar Bear Clubs go outdoor bathing or swimming in the middle of winter. In some areas it is unusual or ceremonial enough to attract press coverage. Polar Bear Swims are conducted as fund-raisers for charity, notably the Special Olympics.

The oldest ice swimming club in the United States is the Coney Island Polar Bear Club of Coney Island, New York, who hold an annual polar plunge on New Year's Day as well as regular swims every Sunday from November to April.

Why The Ice?

Dr. Heather Massey on the Risks of Cold Water Swimming

Webinar on Cold Water Swimming

Susan Simmons, Gordon Giesbrecht, Ph.D., and Brian Hunt, Ph.D. talk about cold water swimming, organized by the Vancouver Open Water Swimming Association on 20 September 2020.

International Ice Swimming Association

The International Ice Swimming Association was founded by Ram Barkai of South Africa and conducts 600m and 1-mile swims in open bodies of water whose water temperatures are less than 5°C (41°F).

2017 Ice Swimming Aqua Sphere World Championships

2017 Ice Swimming Aqua Sphere World Championships sanctioned by the International Ice Swimming Association, including the ice kilometer race in Burghausen, Germany.

2017 Ice Swimming Aqua Sphere World Championships sanctioned by the International Ice Swimming Association, including the ice kilometer race in Burghausen, Germany.

World Winter Swimming Championships

The World Winter Swimming Championships are also held annually in Europe where Extreme swimming events attract hundreds of athletes from dozens of countries.

Open Water Swimming in Antarctica


Winter swimming, Extreme swimming, Ice hole swimming, Ice swimming, Avantouinti (Finnish), Epiphany swimming

Winter Swimming Championships

External links