I usually dive in the UK all year round. The only month I've not dived in our seas has been January. Although, I did almost catch it with a dive off the Brighton Pier wall, on 1st February in 2018, when I forgot my inner (thermal) suit…that was a cold dive, in almost zero visibility...but refreshing nonetheless. I have also been undertaking cold showers every single day for the last 10 months, mainly since getting in and out of my full wetsuit and mask, to sit in a bath of cold water with a Youtube video playing of previous diving highlights was getting quite time-consuming.
My cold showers led me to notice varying effects on my body week by week. I started to do more online research into the benefits of cold water which led me onto Wim Hof - an extraordinary man with a tragi-uplifting life story, who promotes the benefits of regular immersion into cold water - for the brain and body. Some key benefits are said to include a boosted immune system, better blood circulation and a natural antidepressant. I started during lockdown as even though I could dive sporadically over the summer when lockdown was eased, I still couldn't immerse myself in the amazing cold UK waters as much as normal. I have not only felt the benefits listed above but have found increased energy, focus and a genuine connection to the type of feeling I usually get in the sea (even if it can't be fully replicated) As well as being a great way to use less water (you don't hang around too long in a cold blast!) and therefore use less energy - it benefits your pocket as well as the planet. I guess I connected with all of this, but with ignorant bliss, when I took my regular swims in the English Channel as a child. I haven't reconnected with the cold water, and the connection of water and breath awareness/control (a key foundation of not only mindfulness but also scuba and free diving) as strongly since I was a child as during my daily meditative cold showers. The temperature of the shower water read, on my floating waterproof thermometer) at about 6-7 degrees. Water in the open UK water rarely goes below 2-3. Anything below zero is rare across the seas and oceans in general, as this is when water starts to freeze. Most scuba diving associations recommend that being exposed to anything under 12 degrees requires a dry suit.
You might think that 12 degrees in water sounds quite warm, but 12 degrees under the sea is felt surprisingly cooler and the human body cannot last as long submerged in this temperature, compared to 12 degrees on land. This is because water has a higher density compared to air molecules, and therefore with a greater volume of molecules in close proximity with the skin, the human body warms or cools drastically quicker in liquid (if you’ve ever tried to sweat out a piping hot bath, you’d know). I dived in 12 degrees in the Farne Isles with seals (off the coast of Northumberland) in 7mm of neoprene. Even with 7mm of trapped body-heated water in the neoprene, I started to chill around the 30-40 minute mark at an average of 20 metres. Thermoclines underwater, as the sun’s rays penetrate less and less, cause a few degrees of temperature loss underwater, every 10 metres or so. The coldest UK dive I have done (in a dry suit) was 3 degrees. I could hardly feel my fingers after, but wow did I feel invigorated for the rest of the day as my circulation kicked in and boosted my body with fresh blood, carrying away the old (think of it as a circulation MOT).
Due to the peak sun warming our seas across July/August (water absorbs more heat radiation than surfaces like ice, which reflects a lot of radiation) average UK sea temperatures are surprisingly welcoming to swim or dive in, across the autumn and right through to late October or sometimes November. Sometimes a dive in May can be icy cool, after a winter of discontent. Rising sea temperatures - by a degree or so - might not be felt with regular dives and swims, but there is no doubt they are set to go up and up (and up). According to John Abraham, a Professor of Thermal Sciences, "the World's oceans reached their hottest level in recorded history in 2020, supercharging the extreme weather effects of the climate emergency: warmer seas provide more energy to storms, making them more severe, and there were a record 29 tropical storms in the Atlantic in 2020". It might not even be noticeable in my lifetime of cold water activities, and I think this is the problem we face as a general population. The averages are so minute that people don't realise that with just 1% of global temperature rise, huge changes for our social, economic and physical lives are on the horizon if we don't act now. A daily challenge of a few minutes of cold water can not only help us focus, ward away depression through winter, and keep our energy levels up - but I hope they will also have the shock-effect of reminding us just how crucial our relationship to water is: the way we use it, how much we use, how it is bottled, the mass volumes needed to produce our current level of consumerism...which all causes loss of marine ecosystems, floods, droughts, (bush and forest) fires, and a weakened ability for the planet to naturally absorb carbon. As David Attenborough highlights in 'A Perfect Planet', every 1 degree of global temperature rise could cause 1 billion people to be pushed to near unliveable extremes.
Why not challenge yourself to a blast of cold water each morning. It helps me connect daily to the UK sea and the power of water. Just start with 30 seconds, closing your eyes and counting your breaths slowly, using the exhales to clear your mind and reset it for the day ahead. Why not try a simple breathing technique of 8 seconds in, 12 seconds out. 1 cycle will take you almost to your inaugural 30-second cold shower experience. I practise this technique minutes before entering the water for any UK scuba dive, and I learned it via online Instagram workshops with the awesome South African freediver Hanli Prinsloo, who is based a couple of miles down the coastal road from my family in Fish Hoek on the Cape Peninsula. Best of luck, and remember: two of the most precious elements we have within instant reach – even with lockdown stripping bare our lives a little - is our air and our water. Take your time to gather a great relationship with them during this time.