“It’s a nice hobby for lockdown”: Ice swimmer on growing trend

Photo: Daniela Lazarová

Photos of people bathing in icy rivers and lakes have been increasingly common on Czech social media in recent months, with otužování, as it is called in Czech, becoming a real trend. But what is ice swimming or dipping actually like? And are there risks involved? I discussed it with Ondřej Moravec, one of the many who today regularly immerse themselves in extremely cold water.

“I started in the spring lockdown, when a friend of mine told me that it was good against depression.

“So I started to do ice showers.

“Then during the autumn a group of friends of mine invited me to go to one pond which is near Dejvice.

“They told me a lot of things about ice swimming and that it’s very cool and I decided, OK, let’s try it, it could be fun.

“It was the end of September so the water was not that cold – it was around 14 degrees [Celsius].

“I was like OK, that wouldn’t be that terrible. But then when I dived into the water I was like, Oh, that’s hell, I can’t do that.

“So it was kind of a really intense experience.

“But it was very nice. It was a group of friends, we were outside and it was something unique, let’s say, because the second lockdown was starting already, or we knew it was coming.

“So I was like, OK, that’s a pretty nice hobby for lockdown, so I will try to keep doing this.”

You say that people say it’s good for depression, or good for your mood. Have you found that to be the case?

Photo: Daniela Lazarová

“When you are in the water, you really can’t think about anything else – it really clears your mind in many, many ways.

“So that’s why I think it’s good when it comes to mental issues in general.

“And after you finish ice swimming your body really needs to fight this discomfort, let’s say, so on the mental side it’s very helpful.

“It really helped me to stay focused, to clear my mind, to keep myself calm. That really started to work for me.

“And that’s the main reason I’m continuing to do it.”

Is there any health risk? Or have you ever felt you’ve got sick because you’ve done it, or anything like that?

“It’s said that when you are doing ice swimming you can’t go alone.

“Because it’s dangerous – you could have some heart issues, or whatever.

“But I never had that. I had no problems with that.

“The only thing is that when your fingers are really, really frozen you can feel your nerves, how they are really tense.

“So it was kind of a weird feeling. But otherwise it was OK.

“But, yes, you definitely need to go with somebody, in case something happens.”

What do you have to do immediately afterwards? Do you have to dry super fast and get dressed as quickly as possible?

“Some people really start to do squats and do some exercises after that, to keep themselves warm.

“For me it’s much more that I have to stay calm a bit, so I dry myself and get dressed slowly – and when I already have my clothes on I start to do some exercises to heat myself up inside a bit.

“But it differs. Some people want to move a lot, some people don’t need that that much.

“But what’s interesting is that right now, when outside is really chilly already and the ponds are frozen, you can’t swim in them and you just need to stand in the cold water, without swimming.

“And for me that’s probably the biggest challenge.

“Because you just need to stand there and meditate and concentrate on the cold water, even though when you swim in the cold water it’s much more freezing than when you stand.

“When you stand you feel warmer. That’s kind of a paradox.

“But for me it’s kind of important to do something in the water and right now I can’t.”