The swimming trend giving Victorians the chills

woman going winter swimming in ocean cold

Phoebe Craw

Posted October 01, 2021

You’ll be forgiven for getting cold feet before joining those who flock to the freezing waters each morning.

Swimming in freezing waters, while seemingly bizarre, has become the latest craze during the Covid-19 pandemic. Commonly known as 'winter swimming', since that’s the crux of the hobby, this latest pastime isn’t a dip in your heated local pool; winter swimming is done in the icy waters of the ocean.

And don’t worry that winter is technically over – there are still plenty of mornings to come with the mercury forecast to stay in the single digits.

Every morning, often before or just after daybreak, dozens of people get together at different points along Port Philip Bay (and all along the other coasts) in what have been coined ‘Iceberg Clubs’. While these clubs welcome people of any age, they’re not for the faint of heart. In Victoria, the ocean water temperature can be as low as 10 degrees in the heart of winter. But for these daring divers, that’s precisely the point. 

What are the benefits? 

‘There’s the physical shock of it when you enter the water, but once you move through that, there comes a sense of real connection and joy and pleasure,’ says Allison Browning, a member of the Port Melbourne Icebergs. ‘You stop feeling the intensity of the cold and begin to feel free.’ 

While science does back up some of cold-water swimming’s benefits, anecdotally people claim it has helped with everything from chronic health conditions to their cognitive function. 

‘I swim most mornings, and on the days I don’t I really miss it,’ says Renee Buchanan, another Port Melbourne Iceberger. ‘I notice my energy levels aren’t as high and my mind isn’t as clear as the days when I’ve had a swim.’ 

James Crook, a regular cold-water swimmer in Ocean Grove, hasn’t had a cold, a cough, or the flu in two years. ‘I believe it’s the regular cold (water) exposure that does it,’ he says.  

But perhaps the most frequently mentioned benefit is the impact on people’s mental health. It makes sense. Not only does winter swimming offer the calming and restorative power of the ocean, but for many it also provides social connections. ‘There’s a beautiful culture of welcoming and inclusion,’ says Browning. 

‘It’s about experiencing the challenges and the beautiful sunrise and the cups of tea afterwards. We laugh at each other and dish out hugs if someone is feeling flat. There’s a sense of real care there.’ 

Iceberg clubs can meet anywhere between once a day and once a week, and it’s not hard to see how people quickly built community.  


Woman holding notepad looking in the distance

 Ready for an early morning swim at Torquay Beach? 

What are the dangers?

The benefits of winter swimming are hard earned, and it’s not a sport for everyone. Hyperthermia is a real risk, so dippers should learn to spot the signs before they first swim. Those with pre-existing heart conditions also might want to have a chat with their doctor before they venture in. 

And who’s afraid of Jaws? It’s been a long time since the last shark attack death in Victoria, but anyone squeamish about the idea of sharks, jellyfish and stingrays sharing the water might need more convincing.

But likely the biggest dangers are the rips and currents that can drag out weaker swimmers who lack ocean safety knowledge. For these reasons, it’s always a good idea to swim with other people.

Where can I go?  

So, you think you’re ready to take the plunge? Melbourne has established iceberg clubs including at Port Melbourne, St Kilda, and Brighton, and most beachside towns will also have their own group.

The best way to ‘break the ice’ with most of these clubs is via Facebook. You can also simply ask people in your local area for recommendations. And if you can’t find anything? Maybe it’s time to start one yourself!  

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