Central heating, 15 tog duvets and touch-of-a-button air conditioning. Comfort is part and parcel of modern life, but after a tidal wave of curveballs, postman Ken discovered that resilience so often comes not from keeping comfortable, but from pushing what’s possible. Enter, the bracing chill of cold water swimming. He shares how year-round dipping has given him the inner strength to meet life’s challenges and why he’s fighting for a healthier ocean so more of us can feel the benefits too…
What led you to the water Ken?
The last few years have been extremely challenging. I’ve had to cope with the many difficulties life has thrown my way. Working through my childhood trauma, navigating the loss of my father, coping with an ageing mother and losing lifelong close friends to cancer. Trying to find purpose and meaning while being pulled in many directions was taking its toll. I decided to go on a holistic health journey, and it led me to cold water swimming.
And how has it helped you?
In many ways. We’ve become so conditioned to be warm and cosy all the time, but leaning into temporary discomfort builds resilience and strength. If I can jump in the sea in the middle of winter with the waves crashing all around in seven-degree water, I know I can cope with other stuff in life too.
“Afterwards, when we’re out of the water, we find ourselves opening up. It can often get emotional as we share and listen to each other’s stories and challenges.”
So cold water gives you resilience when you step out of it too?
Without a doubt. You’re raising the levels of ‘feel good’ hormones, so your baseline endorphins increase, and you feel so much better all of the time. Breathing, meditation and cold water are all things that have got me through the past couple of years, and they’re all free.
For most of us, our every day is so busy with family life and work, so the raw state of being immersed in water with no distractions is magic. I’ve had moments swimming on Loe Beach where the sun’s been rising as I swam, the water clear like glass, and I’ve thought, ‘This is it’. It’s felt almost like a spiritual experience at times.
Is it something you do alone?
Well, for me a big part of cold water swimming has been the community. I’m part of Blue Balls Cornwall, a male swimming group. Even though I don’t mind going on my own, being with other like-minded men who all support each other through their mental health challenges has been a massive part of it.
Often when you’re in the sea, you don’t get much time to talk because you’re so focused on the cold. But then afterwards, when we’re out of the water, we find ourselves opening up. It can often get emotional as we share and listen to each other’s stories and challenges.
“How can we have a healthy coastal society when water companies focus on profit at any cost?”
It sounds powerful. Do you think this year’s Dip a Day challengers will feel a well-being benefit?
Definitely. The resilience, the sense of reconnection, it offers so much. I did a cold water challenge back in March for 30 days and I felt absolutely incredible afterwards. As much as your mind tries to talk you out of it, not wanting to experience the discomfort, once you’re in it’s so invigorating. I still look forward to it every day and enjoy it immensely.
As a cold water convert, what would you say to water companies polluting the ocean and waterways?
Growing up in Cornwall, the sea has always been part of my life. You can see how important it is for communities and how many people depend on the ocean. How can we have a healthy coastal society – or any society – when water companies focus on profit at any cost?
Inspired by Ken’s experience? Why not help protect the ocean and see where cold water swimming could take you? Sign up to 2023’s Dip a Day campaign, and you’ll receive an exclusive Surfers Against Sewage swim cap, welcome letter and challenge tracker to keep tabs on your well-being throughout the month.
Read other inspiring cold water swimming stories