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Tips & tricks for open water swimming in winter.

Updated: Apr 25, 2021

2020 will be the first year that the Moonshine Endurance team will add an additional swim to the agenda. In addition to our annual swim from New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island, on December 31st, 2020 we will be swimming from Jericho Beach to Kitsilano Beach in Vancouver, BC. Once all athletes have successfully made the crossing, we will raise our collective middle fingers in the air. A salute to the passing of 2020, the year of the rat. This swim will be a distance of 8-9KM and water temperatures will cool down to roughly 6°C (43°F). Below I have taken the time to outline some of the lessons the Moonshiner team has learned over the years as well as some suggestions for swimming in chilly, winter waters of Canada.

1. Wetsuits

Spend the money on a wetsuit that fits properly. When possible, accurately measure yourself and try it on. Proper swimming wetsuits aren’t classified in “mm”. They should be different thicknesses throughout the wetsuit.

Newer swimmers and those who have ‘leg sinking’ problems should invest in a wetsuit with a bit more buoyancy in the pelvic/thigh area. The swimmer will be faster with a higher position in the water.

Shoulder thickness: thinner is better… to a point. More shoulder flexibility is possible with thinner neoprene, but durability and warmth is the cost!

2. Double-cap

One cap is the limit for international marathon swimming. This is because adding that additional cap helps… a great deal. It’s ok to double or even triple cap. Keep in mind to stretch them out first or you will get a headache.

Stuffing the cap with a beach towel and leaving it overnight is a great way to stretch it out.

3. Earplugs

Keeping the water out of the ear canal can keep you warmer! Earplugs are relatively cheap, purchasing 3-4 pairs and experimenting is not a bad idea.

4. Exhale

Have you ever recognized that gasp you take when feeling the cold? It’s called the mammalian diving reflex and it’s our body's natural reaction to the cold. Two things with this:

Expect this response and learn how to override it. Consciously exhale when you put your face in the water and remain calm.

It’s a good thing to feel discomfort… it means you’re alive! Slow your breathing, calm down and know that the feeling will decrease over time (roughly 1-2 minutes).

5. Gloves and booties

Are you a smart fella or a fart smella? Don’t be a hero, get the right gear!

6. Be’s a virtue

Open-water swimming takes time; developing your technique and learning to feel the water, all the while depriving yourself of a constant supply of oxygen is difficult. Be patient, take your time and spend lots of time in the water. Enjoy the process, no other sport allows such an amazing full-body kinesthetic experience!

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