Who’d have thought that one crazy December swim could change your life? We spoke to Tom – founder of the male wild swimming group Blueballs – about his journey into cold water swimming.
You’ve not always been a cold-water swimmer, so how did you get into it?
I’ve always lived in Cornwall and been sporty, but never a swimmer. Before my dipping days, there was not a more stereotypical Alpha-male bloke than me. I would never talk about feelings or express emotion. When times were tough, I’d turn to the pub and engage in negative coping mechanisms to avoid having to deal with my feelings. It was when I lost my driving licence due to drink driving that things began to change for me.
Then funnily enough, my mum bought me a Dryrobe. After much time to reflect on things during lockdown, and following the loss of my licence, I felt an obligation to go swimming to send my mum a selfie in my Dryrobe.
So, when was your first cold-water dip?
It was one freezing mid-December morning back in 2020. I braved the icy shock of the ocean with a dip in Porthtowan Tidal Pool. Unbeknown at the time, but this dip changed my life. I came out absolutely buzzing and wanting more.
Why do you love the ocean?
It changed my life. For me, it’s an extremely positive coping mechanism.
“When you’re in the cold water, you can’t think of any of the anxieties or stress from the day, or your to-do list. You can only think ‘I’m cold’. It centers you and brings you into the moment. Into the now.”
If someone said to me 5 years ago that I’d be talking about my feelings, I would have laughed at the thought. Getting into wild swimming completely de-stigmatised that. It broke down those barriers and is where I met my friend Ross – mental health advocate and fellow Blueballs swimmer. You find yourself surrounded by likeminded people, and it took me away from being surrounded by self-destructive behaviors.
No one’s worried about what you look like or what you’re wearing when you’re in nature.
Why did you create ‘Blueballs’ – the wild swimming group for men?
Suicides are so much higher in men: 75% of all suicides are male, and in Cornwall we have the 3rd highest suicide rate among men in the UK. Where do you hang out as a man? The pub? Playing Football? These can be quite unhealthy coping mechanisms. They certainly brought out the worst in me. I want to enable other men to feel the benefits that I’ve got from wild swimming and the cold water. I know how much it’s benefited my mental health, and how it’s helped me. If the ocean can help one other person too, that’s amazing.
What would you say to someone thinking about giving cold water swimming a go?
It changed my life. Just give it a try. It’s free, doesn’t take much time, and could change your life too.
Don’t take the sea for granted.
If Tom’s story has inspired you to try cold water dipping, you can join our Dip A Day in October fundraising challenge on Facebook. Full of like-minded ocean lovers and fellow dippers, it’s a great way to try your hand at cold water dipping, with safety guidance at the ready.
Written by Sophie Brandon, Community Fundraising Officer.