I hate winter swimming; I love winter swimming.

In life it’s often necessary to convince oneself to do something one doesn’t want to do, in order to realize future rewards (physical, financial, emotional).

I experience this life truth in microcosm, every morning I swim in San Francisco Bay in the winter. I hate getting up early (I’m a night-owl — always have been). I hate it even more when it’s dark outside; even more when it’s cold outside. And most of all, when the reason for doing so is swimming, nearly naked, in 49-degree water.

Yet it must be done. Because no one ever says, “I really regret swimming today.” Even when the water’s 49 degrees. Perhaps especially when it’s 49 degrees.

Immersion is painful. There’s no avoiding it, even with repetition. Yet nothing makes me feel more aliveAnd there’s a reason for that: Pain is my body’s evolved, automatic response to encountering an environment that cannot sustain human life. “GTFO,” my body says at first.

When I refuse, the pain fades after a few minutes, and in its place arises a powerful warmth, which keeps the forces of death at bay (for a while). Nowhere am I more closely in touch with my life-force than while swimming in cold water.

The warmth doesn’t stop when I stop swimming. It suffuses the rest of my day in a glow of vitality.

Winter swimming is pain; winter swimming is pleasure. The latter is made possible only by the former. Winter swimming is life, magnified.

Every day is a choice. Every day an opportunity — to not just be alive, but feel alive.

aquatic park flag
The “Flag.” Aquatic Park, San Francisco, California.

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1 thought on “I hate winter swimming; I love winter swimming.”

  1. Hello, my dear Flag! Winter has become my favorite time of year at AP. Fewer people, quieter water, the thrill of the chill.

    Now that I’m swimming multiple times per week I really love it — my body has become so accustomed to it it’s not really painful for me to get in. Well, not very. I swim in the afternoons on weekends and evenings during the week so I don’t get that nasty morning freeze. I too am a night owl.

    It’s always better to have swum. Funny, that.

    Of course we’re all wimps compared w/the Sandycove denizens. I mean, really…we have warm/hot showers and saunas!

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