Ditch the Wetsuit in May

Paul Ainsworth
Written by Paul Ainsworth

If you look at social media posts of wild swimming, you will see many individuals posting pictures in their swimming costume or trunks without a wet suit in sight. You may visit your local outdoor swimming location and see such people in the flesh who seem immune to the cold.

As the calendar moves round towards the summer, more and more people will be considering taking their swimming from the pool to the outside. Across the country the number of locations offering supervised outdoor swimming is increasing giving swimmers’ greater confidence to move from the indoor pool. The question is what do you wear? You may have swum in the height of summer and been comfortable in your costume but the thought of swimming earlier in the year does not tempt you. Equally you may have already been outdoor swimming this year and relied on your wetsuit to make swimming accessible for you.

The question in your head may be how do these normal looking people around you manage without a wetsuit? That was my view in April last year. I’d completed a winter of chilly swimming wearing wetsuit, hat, gloves, socks and even a rash vest and thought there was no way I would swim without those. I had even swum in September in my full wetsuit and thought that was essential. Yet now a year later I have completed twelve months of swimming without a wetsuit.

So how did I make that transition? How did I ditch the wetsuit?

I did not just turn up at the lake one day and start swimming without my wetsuit, this was a process that took me some time.

These were the steps that I took:

  1. I had been swimming in the cold water in my wet suit so I knew what it was like to step into the cold water and that feeling as the cold water moved up my thighs towards my chest. I did not panic when this happened as I knew how it felt and how it affected my breathing.
  2. I had begun to take cold showers and had reached a point when I could stand in cold water for a minute. This has taken time to build up, starting with ten seconds and working upwards to that minute.
  3. As I took cold showers, I focussed on trying to breathe normally. There was no point in being able to stand under the cold shower for 30 seconds by holding my breath. Instead, it was better to stand there for fifteen seconds and breathe normally and slowly build this up.
  4. I did not rush to increase the duration of my cold showers as I wanted it to become habit, so it was the case of slowly and surely wins the race.
  5. I continued my regular swimming outside in my wetsuit during this time.
  6. I waited for a pleasant morning that encouraged me to swim without a wetsuit.
  7. At this point I committed and left my wetsuit at home; I did still wear neoprene socks, gloves and a hat though.
  8. I carefully laid out my kit (towel, top and jogging trousers) for after swimming so that I knew I would be able to get dry and warm quickly.
  9. As I stepped into the water, I tried to embrace the feeling and focussed on walking in slowly but in determined fashion until the water was up to my neck.
  10. When I began to swim, I concentrated on swimming slowly with a point in mind that I would get to and either swim back or complete a small loop.
  11. I did not try and swim too far but instead decided that I would get out whilst I still felt comfortable.
  12. I made sure that I had a hot coffee ready to drink as soon as I was dry and changed.

I did not expect that I would be able to cope with the cold water later in the year. However, from the beginning of May last year I began swimming without a wetsuit and managed to swim all the way through the calendar year with the coldest swim being 3.9C in January.

So why not have a go, could 2023 be the year you ditch the wetsuit?