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

Nanaimo city council voted unanimously Monday to pass a bylaw establishing the foundation for a new downtown business improvement association. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
City of Nanaimo adopts bylaw to create new downtown business improvement association

Chamber of commerce says next steps will be a board of directors and five-year strategic plan

Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district teachers’ union, and its counterparts from Mount Arrowsmith district, seek stricter COVID-19 rules. (News Bulletin file)
Nanaimo-Ladysmith teachers’ union asks health authority for stricter COVID-19 measures

Teachers ask for vaccine, more online learning, mask mandate for primary students

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson outlines the province’s three-year budget in Victoria, April 20, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C. deficit to grow by $19 billion for COVID-19 recovery spending

Pandemic-year deficit $5 billion lower than forecast

Chakalaka Bar & Grill remains open in defiance of orders from Island Health to close. (Cole Schisler photo)
Island Health seeks injunction against restaurant defying COVID-19 orders

VIHA says Chakalaka Bar and Grill also violating water and sewer regulations with RV hook-ups

Nanaimo Fire Rescue investigator Mark Jonah probes the scene of a blaze that destroyed two apartments on Sunday, April 18. The cause of the blaze has not been determined. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
UPDATE: RCMP say Wakesiah Avenue fire was arson, suspect has been arrested

35-year-old man arrested for allegedly starting fire lived in the complex

A man pauses at a coffin after carrying it during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. announces historic half-billion-dollar funding for overdose crisis, mental health

Of it, $152 million will be used to address the opioid crisis and see the creation of 195 new substance use treatment beds

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a CEFA (Core Education and Fine Arts) Early Learning daycare franchise, in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. budget to expand $10-a-day child care, but misses the mark on ‘truly universal’ system

$111 million will be used to fund 3,750 new $10-a-day spaces though 75 additional ChildCareBC universal prototype sites over the next three years.

The City of Nanaimo will further investigate an initiative to set up two 12-cabin sites to create transitional emergency housing for people experiencing homelessness. (Black Press file photo)
City of Nanaimo will ask for expressions of interest to operate tiny cabin sites

Staff expresses concern about workload, councillor says sheltering people must take priority

Ambulance paramedic in full protective gear works outside Lion’s Gate Hospital, March 23, 2020. Hospitals are seeing record numbers of COVID-19 patients more than a year into the pandemic. (The Canadian Press)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate declines, 849 cases Tuesday

Up to 456 people now in hospital, 148 in intensive care

Christy Clark, who was premier from 2011 to 2017, is the first of several present and past politicians to appear this month before the Cullen Commission, which is investigating the causes and impact of B.C.’s money-laundering problem over the past decade. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
Christy Clark says she first learned of money-laundering spike in 2015

The former B.C. premier testified Tuesday she was concerned the problem was ‘apparently at an all-time high’

Police executed a search warrant at the Devils Army Clubhouse on Petersen road in Campbell River on August 10, 2017.
Murder trial into 2016 Campbell River killing underway in Victoria

Ricky Alexander is charged with the first-degree murder of John Dillon Brown

Pat Kauwell, a semi-retired construction manager, lives in his fifth-wheel trailer on Maxey Road because that’s what he can afford on his pension, but a Regional District of Nanaimo bylaw prohibits using RVs as permanent dwellings, leaving Kauwell and others like him with few affordable housing options. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Housing crunch or not, it’s illegal to live in an RV in Nanaimo

Regional District of Nanaimo bylaw forcing pensioner to move RV he calls home off private farm land

Most Read