On a gloriously sunny but frosty January morning meat joined our mate Owen to document his wild swimming action at Shadwell Basin in East London, for meat twenty-six. We asked him about the appeal of jumping into freezing cold water in speedos whilst we checked out his swim tan.
Hey Owen tell us a bit about wild swimming?
People have always swum outdoors, in wild places, or with a wild state of mind. The popularity of outdoor swimming and dipping in Britain has ebbed and flowed through history, steeped in religious and cultural issues of prudery and superstition, and more recently, safety. Outdoor swimming has gained popularity tremendously in recent times. The taboo of swimming outdoors is being eroded, and the commonly held view that natural water is dirty, polluted, and dangerous is being challenged. More and more people are once again experiencing the thrill and beauty of wild waters, and their own bodies.
How did you get involved?
I grew up in Swansea, with a view of the sea from my bedroom window. I could see over the Bristol Channel to north Devon. So the beach and the sea were a key part of our lives. As a teenager, I found myself taking short dips even in the middle of winter. The rush, the overwhelming intensity of the experience and sense of presence, and the lingering afterglow of endorphins – it’s quite addictive. When I moved to Sheffield, I craved that. I dipped at the edges of reservoirs, moorland ponds and in dark peaty streams. I thought I was alone, until I found the Outdoor Swimming Society on Facebook and from there my knowledge and confidence in wild waters has grown slowly, with experience.
What’s the wildest place you’ve ever swam?
The wildest place, in both a remote wilderness sense, and in a state of mind sense, was swimming off the northernmost tip of Alaska, which is the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic Ocean. There were polar bear footprints on the beach, and huge chunks of sea ice floating about.
How does it feel jumping into freezing cold water?
The sensation at first can be quite painful, and heavy breathing can take some time to settle (sound familiar?). After the first minute, for me, is when the ecstasy and exhilaration comes. There may be giggling, an acute sense of awareness, a sense of peace. I aim to go in smiling, and get out smiling, wishing I’d stayed in a little longer. In cold water especially, always get in gradually. Jumping in can trigger the ‘gasp reflex’, much less fun than the ‘gag reflex’ meat readers may be familiar with.
You’ve spent quite a bit of time in Alaska, how was that?
After Uni, I took an internship working on a huge climate change field study spanning northern Alaska. When I arrived, it was daylight 24hrs a day, and the sun seemed to shine more at night than it did during the day. By the time I left, the sun hadn’t risen for 3 weeks, it was -30°C, and I was watching the aurora borealis. Almost everyone around me was Inupiaq, native Eskimo people of northern Alaska.
What’s going on with you these days?
I’m with my partner Mick, in a small house in a village north of Sheffield. I recently withdrew from my PhD, and now trying to move into the world of horticulture. We grow all sorts in the garden, explore the Peak District, enjoy the Sheffield rave scene, and watch Gogglebox with our cat, Marley.
Do you have any exciting future plans?
Find work, do some good things, grow a mad garden, swim some great swims, read some good books, meet refreshing people.
You can see more of Owen in meat twenty-six which is now available from our online store and in selected stockists world-wide from March.
For more information on wild swimming check out @outdoorswimmingsociety on Facebook.
All images are © meat products/Adrian Lourie