If you hadn’t already realised….I’m a skinny dipper.
Which means I like sun and warmth. I do love mountains, skiing, hiking etc but really the main thing in my life lately is skinny dipping. I search for sun and warm weather, the kind of weather where any more clothing than shorts and t-shirt is too much, and no clothing at all is the best. You won’t meet many naturists or skinny dip enthusiasts who look for cold water. It’s really not that comfortable to be naked in winter, when all the sane people are wrapped up in hats, scarves and puffy jackets. Preferably, I like to be able to spend a prolonged period of time naked, not just a quick in/out of the water and then run home to the hot shower. So warm temperatures are what I want. If you haven’t tried it before then you wouldn’t believe how good it feels to emerge naked from a crystalline river on a hot day and let the warm sun dry your skin. Mmmhmm that’s the kind of skinny dipping I would usually go for!
But, as we all know by now, we’re living in “unprecedented” times. I was not planning on being in New Zealand for winter. I was going to skedaddle at the end of summer and head to the northern hemisphere for another summer (lucky me, I know). Right before I was due to fly, the world turned upside down. Everything ground to a halt and all plans were put on hold. Just like everyone else, I hunkered down and tried to survive lockdown.
Did anyone else have the sensation that time was put on pause while we were in lockdown? That’s certainly how I felt: my life stood still, the world stood still, therefore I imagined time standing still. But oh no no! Not so lucky! Once lockdown was over and freedom was attainable again, I had to accept that Mother Nature had continued with her usual progression. Winter had well and truly set in here in N.Z. Ever the optimist, I refused to believe it was too cold for my usual way of life. Which consists of road tripping, wild swimming and copious amounts of nudity. So into my van I piled, with a newly acquired hot water bottle, a wool blanket and a big thick bathrobe. That’s all I’d need to survive winter van life, right?
It didn’t take long for me to realise things had changed. The days were getting shorter, the weather was getting grimmer and the beautiful blue waters of New Zealand ever colder. My old summer sunny ways were not achievable anymore. But like I said I’m an optimist, and I’m adaptable. I refused to give up on my naked, travelling ways. A little adaptation was required. Rather than seeking out the sunshine and best weather areas I would embrace the cold, seeking out the coldest waters and challenging myself. Inspired by Wim Hof, (a Dutch dude known as “The Iceman” who is famous for withstanding freezing temperatures) I decided to push myself.
As some sort of crazy defiance or denial of winter I vowed to swim everyday in June. In the summer I swam everyday without even trying, but in June it took a heartfelt promise to myself to make me do it. I was true to my word, and dip everyday I did. Swimming became my only consistent. I’ve been living in my van, so never sure where I’ll be one day to the next, no routine and no responsibilities. No idea when I will leave New Zealand or continue with my life plans. With everything else in my life unknown and uncertain, it felt good to have one thing I could be sure of everyday. Everyday I would get in the water, and everyday I would freeze my butt off, of this I could be sure.
It might sound a little crazy, but this is what has kept me sane through the past month. Getting in the water, immersing myself in nature this way, has become my grounding. Without my enforced daily dip I could have gone whole days without embracing the natural world around me. It would have been easy to let the lack of sunshine and warmth get me down, but thanks to my June pact with myself I knew that at some point during the day I would get involved with the great outdoors. No matter how cold or rainy the day was I would have a moment of liberation, calm, and connection to nature. Each time I dip I come out of the water feeling enlivened, so refreshed; not just on my skin but in my mind. When I dunk my head under the icy water I become instantly present, a kind of clarity washes over me. Times when I’ve felt stressed or anxious I’ve taken myself off for a solo skinny dip. Immersing into the cold water has cleared my head and helped me to put things into perspective. The tingle of the cold feels like it wakes up every cell in my body, it gives me such a boost of energy. I come out feeling more alive than ever, honestly it makes me feel invincible. It makes me feel as if I could take on anything, physical or emotional, that the world could throw at me. It makes me feel strong in myself. Like the best version of myself: clear headed, present and alert. There’s been some amazing scientific studies on cold water immersion and the health benefits it has. Some of which I’ve read, and if you’re interested you can read about it too. But I’m not writing this to teach you about science, I’m writing this to tell you about my personal experience, which is that it feels bloody fantastic! In the hope that I might inspire you to try a polar plunge.
My dips have, for sure, been the highlights of my month, and the highlight of my winter so far. They’ve been the most enjoyable, most memorable moments of the last 30 days. Some moments I’ll never forget, and some people I never would have met if it wasn’t for dipping. I’ve bonded with people over the joy of polar plunging, and the joy of nudity.
My cousin, Jordan, has been with me for most of my dips. We’ve been travelling together since pre lockdown. Together we’ve plunged in sooo many different rivers and lakes around the South Island. We egg each other on and keep each other strong. When one of us is shivering with cold, the other makes the hot tea. Surprisingly there hasn’t been too much shivering. Of course, there has been some, but not as much as we expected! Really we have surprised ourselves with our capabilities, we’ve withstood temperatures that we really didn’t think we could stand. It’s quite amazing what the human body is capable of when you push yourself a little further. These 30 days of winter dips have given me a new strength. I know that next time I think I can’t do something, I will remember this and that I achieved something that I didn’t think I could do. If you think you couldn’t do it, why don’t you see what you’re capable of?!
Mine and Jordan’s record low temperature for skinny dipping was below 2℃/35.6℉, in a glacier fed lake with icebergs floating in it! I wanted to tell you guys about it in this entry but it seems I’ve too much to say on this subject and this one post would end up being far too long. So expect the next post very very soon with the tale of our iceberg skinny dip.
If you’re interested check out what Wim Hof is all about and he can teach you a little about the science behind it all: https://www.wimhofmethod.com/