It’s 5.30am, and the frosted windscreen provides an additional challenge on our drive to the beach. In light of trembling knees and towels used as scarves, we’re not short of reminders that our daily dip in the winter ocean should be a ritual left for psychotics and masochists.
We arrive as two weary, anxious, and introverted souls. After stripping off, we crush the coarse sand with our numb feet and dive into an extremely cold ocean.
The Morning Ritual
The dark water is bathed in the tiniest of early morning sunlight. Underneath the surface, with red eyes now wide open, it is much darker.
Every inch of skin is jabbed by what feels like tiny knives, and my heart rate peaks as if the internal survival button has been switched to ‘on’. The taste is of pure salt, but it is not unwelcome, as even rinsing my mouth has proven benefits.
Back on land, we dry off and laugh at ourselves, shaking in the cold wind. We leave as two awakened, grateful, motivated, and stimulated salt water rats. Our morning ritual proves once again, that an ocean swim is more to us than a simple means to wake up for the day. It’s an improvement in quality of life.
It’s a Source
Many will often look for new ways to enhance motivation, positivity and creativity. Meditation and reading help this objective consistently for me. On the physical side, to access and improve my mental behaviour, I turn to something that both punishes and rewards my body; swimming in the ocean in the morning’s early hours.
It’s a shock to the system that can compete against the rush from a 30 foot free-fall. It’s a wake-up mechanism that coffee could never rival. It above all gives a sense of achievement that let’s me own the morning.
In Western Australia, we proudly boast a rich, ocean-loving community. Our national clean-up days, our care for the water’s precious ecosystem, and our self-indulgence in its endless beauty, are all signs of an undying love for arguably our State’s best natural offering.
This is where my introduction to the sea came from, as surfing, diving, fishing, and swimming in the ocean became necessities for my sanity. It’s as if the longer I spend away from the ocean, the more I miss that sense of belonging. It’s in line with the feeling of homesickness.
When we were first summoned to full-time work after years of idleness at university, a childhood mate of mine, Brendan, and I felt we needed a release before stepping into our respective offices. Summertime, around 6am, the water temperature would be a nice 23 Degrees Celsius; far from being a chore to step into the water.
What started as a reprieve from thinking about tiresome office hours ahead of us, turned into an addiction.
Ahead of the Game
I realised that each time we did this, I would walk into the office and feel as though I was several steps ahead of my colleagues. While they slept, I was basking in the elements; under water, stars, and a skerrick of sunlight.
We may only spend 5 minutes in the water on some days, but this would be enough to provide an immediate charge to all of my body’s sensory systems. No matter what I was faced with, I felt as if my day’s “opponents” (perhaps a demanding boss, client, customer, or even partner) still needed to catch up.
A Little bit of Science!
The act can be compared to cold bathing (i.e. cold showers or ice baths), which has been confirmed as improving both susceptibility to illness and quality of life in a study monitoring the effects of a cold shower over 30-90 days (Buijze et al., 2016): “Even though the vast majority of participants reported a variable degree of discomfort during cold exposure, the fact that 91% of participants reported the will to continue such routine (and 64% actually did) is perhaps the most indicative of any health or work benefit.”
I obviously share the desire to continue my routine willingly, and this perhaps shows that there are deep-seeded riches involved in stepping into icy cold temperatures as a way to increase quality of life.
It is a killer of anxiety. It forces me to focus on every singular moment. Whether the piercing temperature on my skin, or appreciating the lines of light stretching from sun to ocean floor.
I needn’t worry about deadlines, meetings, relationship troubles or bills. All goes out the door, even just for several moments, as my mind wrestles itself into pleasurable discomfort.
It introduces clarity of mind. As if baptism for the day, any superficial demons are cast out with a quickened heart rate and rapid breathing. This intoxication of blood pumping through my body spurs forward thinking, and this helps me analytically.
I see less problems and more solutions, perhaps due to an introduction of dopamine (caused by a sense of achievement from ripping off the warm blankets earlier on, and forcibly taking on some skin-numbing water). This provides me with a sense of creativity, as my mind has more space to “move” and develop ideas.
The early morning community at Cottesloe Beach, Perth, is rife with cold water adorers. Predominantly much older than us, it’s as if these aged winter-beach goers have this secret which 99% of us young folk don’t know about.
Come summer the beach is once again busy. Selfishly we tend to feel almost like others coming down are merely visitors. We thus have a protectiveness and sense of ownership over this exercise. It is very much ‘ours’ – at least the act of heading for a swim before the sun is up.
The severe reduction in thermal comfort is the price one pays to feel this benefit. And with the improvements I have seen personally in my own well-being, it is not a ritual I am likely to stray from anytime soon. Go on… get out there.