The cold water swimming / dipping scene in Nanaimo centers on Departure Bay Beach, with daily individual swimmers and small weekend groups huddled up, bracing themselves for a frigid plunge into the refreshing Pacific brine. I've been cold dipping since 2017, starting first in an unheated saltwater pool, then a 55 gallon bucket in the backyard, and then the Pacific Ocean off Salt Spring Island. No matter what mood I was in before my cold dunk, I always came out reborn, electric, feeling stronger and more resilient. And, about 5 minutes later, shivering uncontrollably.
On a brisk Sunday morning in early December 2021, I dropped by a Young Professionals of Nanaimo event and was surprised to see several small groups stripping down to their swimsuits for the ritual. There's nothing like cold water immersion to get complete strangers talking to each other. Some do the icy plunge as part of their morning routine, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Regulars at Departure Bay include a group of health care providers from Nanaimo Regional General Hospital (Sundays at 9am) and the Narrrwhals (Sundays at 10am, Tuesdays at 7pm).
"Because we wear clothes and artificially control the temperatures at home and at work. we've greatly reduced the natural stimulation of our bodies..." says Wim Hof, ritualizer of a practice that is likely as old as homo sapiens. Of course, reducing natural stimulation is kind of the idea. It's easier to concentrate when you aren't freaking out over how cold you are or look like naked. But for intermittent mood blasts, to shake off the torpor or depression, there's nothing like a nice icy immersion. This is in fact what drove Mr. Hof into the icy channels of Amsterdam in the first place.
There are risks of course: hypothermia, cold water shock and, as with any water activity, drowning. If you feel faint, dizzy, hot, or anything unusual –-- besides shivering and the intense sensation of cold on your skin - get out! If you're new to cold water, start slow, a minute or two at a time and proceed to longer immersions with caution. Always warm up immediately afterwards. If you're cooling off in Departure Bay, we recommend dropping in to Drip Coffee right across from the beach for a hot beverage.
Diving into cold dark water after sunset isn't for everyone, but every new moon a few adventurers make their way over to the ocean side of Piper's Lagoon Park to bathe in nocturnal bioluminescence.
But Nanaimo offers endless cold water proximity, and has a nascent cold water culture in the making. I've done cold dips at Westwood Lake (colder weather may mean breaking ice to get in), Ammonite Falls, Neck Point Park, Pipers Lagoon (ocean side), Departure Bay, and even here at high tide, just off the Harbourfront Walkway. So, come on! Get outside, take off your clothes, and dive in!
You won't be sorry... for long.