The Central App

Ice swimming championships return to Alexandra Pool

The Central App

Anna Robb

04 July 2024, 5:45 PM

Ice swimming championships return to Alexandra Pool A frosty morning at the Alexandra Pool. PHOTO: File

Next week 50 of the hardiest of swimmers will race in Alexandra’s icy waters for the New Zealand and Southern Hemisphere Ice Swimming Championships.

With the current outdoor pool temperature at 5°C it meets the International Ice Swimming Association (IISA) regulation of being 5°C or lower.

Organiser Susan Sherwen said the event was growing with 50 swimmers taking part this year - up from 39 in 2023, and 19 in 2022. 

Entries include top New Zealand swimmers, five para swimmers, one of which is paralympian and five-time medallist Mary Fisher, who is legally blind.

A strong local contingent is diving in too, with Alexandra Swimming Club sisters Sophie, Heidi and their dad Chris Winter all competing. 

Vicki Liddell, Julie Morris and Cameron Stanley are the other Central swimmers. 

Five swimmers from Australia are making the trip because where they live “they struggle to get cold enough water,” Susan said. 

Other swimmers hail from Auckland, Tauranga, Taranaki, Wellington, Blenheim, Christchurch, Timaru, Oamaru, Queenstown and Dunedin. 

Susan is targeting a new personal record in conjunction with the event. 

She’s planning a 3km cold water swim on Wednesday, after which she’ll be slowly warming up inside with blankets, sleeping bags, hot water bottles, drinks and snacks, “for quite some time.” 

She said the cold ice cream headache is one of the hardest things to contend with.

“Even me, and I’ve done a lot of cold-water swimming, I’ll look at the water and think, do I really want to do this?”

Susan said 26 new swimmers this year were nervous and asking lots of questions.

To be an ice swimmer she said you needed “bravery or stupidity . . . and to be able to get past the uncomfortable” paired with mental strength.  

Races are daily Wednesday until Saturday (July 10-13) and swimmers have the chance to qualify for the New Zealand team for the world championships in Italy in 2025. 

Each day of competition has two sessions, the first kicks off at 8.30am and the second, one hour after the conclusion of the first.

There are a range of distances; 50m, 100m of each stroke, 100m and 200m individual medleys, 250m, 500m and 1000m freestyle along with team relays.

The prizegiving is at the Alexandra District Club, July 13 at 6pm. 

A trained team of medical professionals will be on hand, anyone under 18 needs to have provided parental consent and swimmers must also be cleared by a doctor before they can enter, and after their races.

As for the weather, Susan said her fingers were crossed for clear skies and cold winter conditions.  

“If it rains it may warm up too much.”

The event alternates between outdoor pools and open water, and it will be back in St Bathans in 2025, where many ice swimming enthusiasts hope to enter the prestigious ice mile swim. 

Event director Susan Sherwen providing a briefing to ice mile competitors at St Bathans in 2023. PHOTO: Roger Soulsby

The public are welcome to watch in Alexandra at no charge (normal charges apply for the indoor pool).  

The International Ice Swimming Association (IISA) began in 2009 with a vision to make swimming in icy waters a new sport and now has members in 73 countries. 

IISA rules state swimmers must only wear one standard swimming costume, one pair of goggles, and one standard swimming silicon cap. Earplugs are allowed.

Read more: Clyde School’s polar plunge for shortest day

The Central App will bring readers event coverage next week.