If you've been through the Tallinn airport recently, you may have seen the Bolt ad announcing that 1 in 5 Estonians practice winter swimming. Whether you think 20% of the population is bonkers or brave, the sport's popularity has only increased in recent years. Ready to take the plunge? Read Kristel Kärner's suggestions for winter swimming in Estonia below.
Winter swimming is an increasingly popular winter sport among Estonians. Is it because Estonian winters are no longer full of snow, or is it just a need for something other than skiing?
In Estonia, the water temperature rarely exceeds 20 degrees, even in the summer. So for some visitors swimming here might seem like a dip in icy water. But the best Nordic swimming can be experienced from November to March when the water temperature is around 1 degree Celsius, with the water under an icy layer and the surroundings covered in snow.
Winter swimming isn't a simple dip in icy water. It's more than just a quick, impulsive plunge. Estonians often jump into an ice hole following a hot sauna and then run back as fast as they can. It's charming and fun and is deeply rooted in sauna traditions. However, winter swimming is an endurance sport whose main focus is on strengthening the mind. Every time you step through the snow towards a hole cut in the icy water, every time you calmly step into the water and remind yourself that calm breathing is the key, you are a winner. A joy in itself!
And every time you stay there a little longer and go a bit further – you slide into icy water that feels like fire, push away icy chunks and feel the calmness taking over your body. You know humans are not made to survive freezing water, but you can push those boundaries within yourself. You don't need to swim to shore but rather enjoy the feeling of the iciness slowly and gently pinching at your skin. You calmly breathe in and out, look at the empty snowfields around you and listen to the silence of winter.
Coming out of the water, you feel stronger than before, body and mind. Cold water gives the body an unexpected rush of energy. For the next few days, no problem seems without a solution, and no mountains go unconquered. You are more assured and radiate. Soon enough, you notice that the typical runny nose during winter is no longer runny, you no longer feel cold waiting for the bus, and the flu doesn't seem to take you down. Maybe it's the Estonian traditional flu shot and vitamin?
Winter swimming clubs are located in every bigger city, but passionate enthusiasts can be found in every corner of Estonia. The Pirita Open is also an international, annual winter swimming festival taking place. To try icy swimming, contact a winter swimming club and take your first dip. Information on clubs can be found via regional tourism information centres.
If you're interested in finding out about the sport side of winter swimming, come over and compete or just watch. Everyone is invited! Remember, take a friend if you haven't gone before and be safe. Breathe slowly as you get in the water — try a local trick: wear a wooly hat, and keep your head and hands out of the water to avoid experiencing cold water shock.
Tallinn has a winter swimming club in Pirita at the Port. Winter swimming club Lennusulps is active behind the Seaplane Harbour Museum, with a sauna available on certain days of the week. You can also try winter swimming at Nõmme Sports Centre. Iglupark igloo saunas in Noblessner are also a great way to ease your way into the sport; heat up in the sauna and climb down the ladder into the sea. Repeat as often as you'd like!
Outside Tallinn, you can find an active community in Haapsalu at their winter swimming centre. Plus, you might come across holes cut into the ice next to a dock or pier in a river or lake — if you do, you'll know that someone has been swimming there!
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