Why I Swim in Cold Water

Today is October 16, and I put in 40 laps of our pool (which is pretty long) and am looking forward to another couple of weeks of swimming.  The pool is ostensibly heated but the heater went out for about a week and the temperature of the water dropped from around 80 to 68oF.  We got the dang thing working again and today the temperature was up to 70. Nirvana.

Most of my friends can’t understand how I can swim in such old water, but you just have to consider where I swam growing up.

My family belonged to the Eel River Beach Club in Plymouth, MA (it’s still there) and the pool at the club was salt water.  A huge pump used to draw water from the end of a long pipe that extended out into the ocean (actually Massachusetts Bay) to fill the pool. The average temperature of the water in MA Bay is in the low to mid-60s in the summer, so when that pool filled it was cold. It warmed up with use but was drained and refilled regularly.

This is what it looks like today – a lot bigger with no high dive but the pump house (blue top) is still there.


The beach in front of the club was where most of the adults who weren’t playing tennis or watching kids would go, because the pool was always a storm of activity: swimming and diving lessons, practices for meets, and of course the rough and tumble games of Hill Dill or Corner Tag.


This is a picture of my cousin Peter and me in the pool – I was probably 10?

I would occasionally go down to the beach (on the other side of those cars) with my Mom and take a dip there. Every day like clockwork, an elderly, very fit man who lived on Manter’s Point overlooking the beach, would come down with a thermometer and tell us the water temp. I swear it was frequently in the 50s, and even when it was warmer, it was usually only the top four inches or so. The minute you dropped below the top layer, you froze.


Our idea of a swim was to run into the water, get wet, then stay in either swimming or just moving around until you couldn’t feel your skin. Then you ran out and lay on a towel in the sun, reveling in the warmth.

So cold water is not much of a challenge for me. I usually quit swimming when the pool gets to 60 (November) and get back in in March or April when it warms up to 60. The four months in between are dark days for me – no swimming. I can’t stand overheated, over-chlorinated gym pools where you get run over in the lap lane, although I have been driven to a few water aerobics classes just to enjoy being in the water.

Cold water is denser and will sink in warmer water, which is why the ocean is colder on the bottom. I swear swimming in cold water takes more energy, too, but it could be a figment of my imagination.

The coldest water I have ever been in? Off the coast of Maine on Memorial Day. The water there averages 47-51 degrees and my Dad bet me a dollar I wouldn’t go in. I absolutely did but came out in the same motion.

And there you have it: why I swim in cold water!

PS We have a hot tub in which I can warm up in afterward.



27 thoughts on “Why I Swim in Cold Water”

  1. The North Sea is cold too…I have pictures somewhere of my little brothers paddling as children, wearing their big woollen sweaters. over their swimming gear.

  2. Brrr! As I read this on a chilly morning in the UK, the goosebumps are already prickling across my skin! Swimming is a marvellous activity, but I agree with you about the almost-tropical public baths. Despite the over-abundance of chlorine, I always feel like I am swimming in the filth of the local population.

  3. While I certainly love swimming in a heated pool these days, that was an unheard of luxury when I was growing up. You swam in whatever the temperature was. Of course, New Jersey ocean water gets pretty warm by August. I’m not sure I’m as tough as you!

    1. I went swimming off a NJ beach when I was in college – nice water. The south side of the Cape gets lovely warm water in the summer from the Gulf Stream. Anything inside the hook of the Cape stays really cold!

  4. Brrr. I can’t do that anymore, Noelle. But as a kid… Memorial Day was when we started playing in Lake Champlain. Now it feels like an ice cube in August. You are braver than I! 😀

  5. Too cold for me…shiver just to think about it. But, my husband used to take the girls swimming in Kennebunk Pond (Southern Maine) on April 1st each year while I stayed home to get the wood stove ablaze and make hot cocoa for their “Welcome Home!” Enjoyed your post, Noelle. 🙂

  6. Chilly water is best, but I admit to liking the follow up in the hot springs. When I was a kid, I swam in the creek until I got so cold I went home and got in the bath tub.

  7. I am from Barcelona and even there we only went to the beach in spring/summer (mind you, we didn’t go there on holiday, only on weekends for a few hours and it would get very crowded) so I don’t really do cold water. I must confess I’ve never gone swimming in a beach in the UK (even when I lived near one) and I have a similar issue with swimming pools that you mention. I have sometimes used them, but only when I could get there at a time when not too crowded… Brave Noelle!

    1. I swam off the coast of Wales once, Olga. The water was delightful since the Gulf Stream makes its way there. I think the inherent cold water of so many places keeps a lot of people out of the water.

  8. Cold water is so good for you. Though it’s nice you have a hot tub to warm up in after your swim. 🙂 And I’m so with you on the over-chlorinated, crowded gym pools. Eew.

  9. Yeah, I grew up swimming in an unheated outdoor pool where 68 was positively balmy. I suspect they didn’t let us swim below about 64 though. I was notorious for swimming anywhere – English Channel, Moray Firth… key thing is to be below the surface since it was colder in the wind out of the water! But the other plus is how good you feel when you get out – tingling all over! You have to keep moving, though 🙂

  10. Whenever the topic swimming comes up it makes me nostalgic. I spent my childhood in a village (deep in rural India) which was surrounded by three ponds and a river. Swimming was a regular activity. And those ponds and rivers were neither chlorinated nor dirty as they are now. Even the pool in our apartment in Bangalore is so much chlorinated, I am afraid to go swimming frequently.

  11. Wow I finally find someone who played corner tag as a kid! I was just googling to refresh myself of the rules and it’s impossible to find!
    Do you remember the rules you played by? I was starting to be afraid it was a localized thing. I’m from Northern Va

    1. I don’t think it was totally localized since other swim clubs had it. It was basically tag, where you had to run around the pool but jump in and out at every corner.. I remember the tagger had to start in the middle of the pool.

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