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Ocean temperatures dip to single digits in qathet region

Cold water swimming enthusiasts continue in cold months

Plunging, swimming, dipping and cold-water immersion have been human practices for centuries, and a purported way to combat a plethora of ailments including: relieving pain from arthritis, improving circulation and a general anti-depressive effect, plus many more.

One of the first recorded claims of the health benefits of cold water swimming date back to 400 BC, when according to Hippocrates, water therapy relieved fatigue.

The definition of cold water swimming is usually when a body of water is 15 degrees Celsius or below. The Pacific Ocean does fluctuate in temperature, from summer to autumn, and winter and spring, with the average summer sea temperature in the qathet region rising as high as 17 degrees, then dropping by late November/early December to a chilly eight degrees. February is usually the coldest month with an average ocean temperature of seven degrees.

A group of local residents began meeting regularly, usually at Willingdon Beach, more than five years ago as a loose community of folks who began dipping into the ocean every day, no matter the weather or temperature. The group gained momentum and interest from the community during the COVID-19 pandemic, when getting outdoors was encouraged, and in some cases the only safe way to socialize.

They formed a social media page called Powell River Cold Water Swimmers and over the years have gained a lot of interest and enthusiasm from those curious about the practice. But, in the colder months of November until March, that page is suspended, due to sea temperatures dropping, making cold water swimming challenging.

Now a core group of swimmers called the Powtown Popsicles, most of whom have generally been cold water swimming for quite some time now, are meeting every day at Willingdon during high tide. 

“You are only one swim away from a good mood,” said Deborah Calderon, one of the founding members of the group.

Calderon, Terry Dahlgren, Margo Lennon, Gerda Wever and Sherry Burton especially love sunny days, like the one they experienced on Thursday, November 23, while speaking with the Peak post-swim.

They said the group is a lot bigger on weekends these days, with at least 15 swimmers coming out.

“Most of us come out every day regardless of the weather,” said Calderon.

Burton started the practice in June of 2020.

“You have to go in at least for 45 seconds, in order for the body to adjust,” explained Burton. “But for me it’s always cold and it hasn’t gotten easier.”

However, Burton said the folks who meet up regularly are having a great time. 

“No matter what kind of day I’m having, after going into the water my day always gets better,” added Calderon.

Small research studies have indicated that a physiological change such as putting your feet or hands in cold water can help regulate the body and mind, providing a kind of reset. The social aspect of the activity is also a motivation for those in the group who come out for a swim, even if the temperature is hovering around eight degrees.

“We go in for about four to seven minutes,” said Calderon. “You can’t just go in and come right back out.”

The group said that the benefit they feel continues throughout the rest of their day. Calderon sees the activity in a practical and philosophical way.

“I find it helps with any inflammation, but in general [cold water swimming] gives you whatever you need for that day,” said Calderon. “For those who choose to continually do it, it works for us.”

Meaning that, Calderon knows there are naysayers, as she follows news on the subject. Most evidence supporting the health benefits of cold water swimming are anecdotal. Research on cold plunging or swimming remains limited, but according to, a health-care research group, that might change soon.

According to Heather Massey, an environmental physiologist with the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom, a team of researchers (including Massey), is planning the first large, randomized controlled trial on using cold water swimming to treat anxiety and depression. It is set to launch in 2024 and will enrol more than 400 people.

Calderon said it was a godsend for her to start cold water swimming back in 2020.

“After swimming in the cold water, people say they feel energized, but for me, I usually feel calmer,” added Calderon. “It does whatever you need it to do.”

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