The sun is shining and Aquatic Park Cove is filling up with people in wetsuits just waiting to submerge themselves in the chilly morning Pacific Ocean. If you haven’t tried open water swimming you’re in for a treat. We don our skins and get together with local swimmers, their canine entourage & spectators just hanging out for fun. Join us on a deep dive into the wellbeing benefits of an icy alfresco dip as we go sea swimming in San Francisco.
Are all open water swimmers masochists?
Maybe you’ve seen them powering along the shoreline and wondered why on earth anyone would want to submit themselves to such seemingly masochistic, uninviting delights? The truth is, open water swimming is invigorating, uplifting and once you’ve tried it, downright addictive.
Our own journey started at home, in the Lake District, in winter (brrrh, yes, I did say winter) and we’re still at it. When we’re not working we like to find a way to blow the cobwebs off. This time, whilst working in San Francisco we decided to take a dip and watch the sun rise over the east bay. As you can see from our photo, we were in excellent company. We headed into Fisherman’s Wharf, down to Aquatic Park Cove, home to some of Benny Bufano’s amazing sculptures and a favourite local spot for serious swimmers and Sunday dippers alike. Each lap is around a third of a mile with views taking in the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and Hyde Street Pier. We thought it would be the perfect place for our first open water swim in the Pacific.
Over the past few years open water swimming has seen a huge surge in popularity, if you’re still wondering why, let’s take a look. Here’s why we went sea swimming in San Francisco.
Psychological Benefits of Open Water Swimming
One of the main reasons that we love wild swimming (not to mention sea swimming in San Francisco) is that it gives you the opportunity to connect with nature. Instead of churning out robotic lengths in a grotty pool with a speed freak on your tail you get to choose lakes, mountains, lidos, bays or the open sea as your backdrop. Open water swimming is a treat for your body and your mind. The sights and sounds of nature are perfect for providing a calming environment, downtime away from tech, constant connection and the worries of the day.
We know from research that when you exercise in nature, you get a greater return on investment for your time and that’s as good a reason as any to hit open water. With the regular exercise that open water swimming provides you’ll be building resilience and reducing your stress levels to boot.
Wild Water Swimming Boosts Your Immune System
That freezing cold water is going to boost your white blood cell count and help your body fight off infection and honestly, after the first couple of minutes you won’t even notice it’s cold. When you swim in open water you’ll be building and maintaining an immune system that’s fighting fit. You’ll also be boosting your levels of the antioxidant glutathione reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0891584994900302
Swimmer’s High (it’s legal)
That cold water isn’t just going to make you shiver and run for the hills. The low temperature activates your parasympathetic nervous system providing a rush of endorphins known as ‘Swimmers High’. Yup, we said it was addictive and that’s how we know that once you start, you’ll be back for more.
How does swimming help you mentally? Wild water swimming provides the perfect environment for practicing mindfulness and moving away from the autopilot of a conventional pool. Notice the temperature of the water on your skin, the way your body feels as you move through briny liquid with waves or ripples lapping against your skin. Listen to the sound of water against your ears. Bring your attention to the movement of your body as it creates splashes, bubbles or soundless kicks.
Feel the rhythm of each stroke, noticing how your breath varies with your speed and effort. Focus on the colour, clarity and sensation of the water. Switch things up and change your stroke. Bring your attention to your surroundings, trees, sand, lakeside banks or mountains, what do you notice as the world floats by you? Just be in the water, opening up to all of your senses. That’s the meditative power of swimming.
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