On Saturday 19th January I had the pleasure of volunteering at PHISH - the Parliament Hill Icy Swim Hootenanny. This invite only cold water swimming gala has been one of the highlights of my swimming year, whether swimming or volunteering, since it was founded a few years ago by cold water legends John Donald and Jeremy Irvine.
John stepped down last year, to the doffing of many swim caps, and it seemed that 2018 would be the final PHISH fling. So when Jeremy announced that the phoenix would rise from the ashes in 2019 there was a widespread quickening of hearts and an instant flurry of excitement. Not least from me.
I volunteered this year; given that my current level of cold water habituation is somewhere on a par with a camel (as, indeed, is my present swimming ability) I thought it wise. The cold water lifeguarding team at Parliament Hill are second to none - kind, wise, supportive and hard as nails. I couldn't have stood the embarrassment if they'd had to be inconvenienced on my behalf. So I was happy to don a yellow vest and pick up a stopwatch.
I can't recommend volunteering at outdoor pools highly enough. Every outdoor pool in the country has a sense of community about it, and those where volunteers are involved build the strongest possible communities with enormous social benefits for those involved, and for the swimmers they serve. Keep your eyes open on social media in the coming months, as calls for volunteers begin to emerge ahead of the 2019 summer season.
It was a real pleasure to stand poolside at PHISH and see so many swimmers achieving great things. Some of them show a turn of speed I could never dream of achieving in warm water, let alone in 5c water that starves the muscles of oxygen and squashes the lungs like a discarded crisp packet. But for me the achievements of swimmers who don't make the podium are of at least equal importance. The swimmer who clearly dug very deep to press on and finish the endurance race when the last few lengths were clearly very painful, the relay teams who support and encourage each other as they make their first foray into competitive cold water swimming, the recreational swimmers who wouldn't ordinarily consider entering a gala. They are all champions.
Amongst those donning a yellow vest at this year's PHISH was Roger Taylor - a very talented photographer and an enthusiastic outdoor swimmer. We are blessed to have had Roger allow us to use some of his work in The Lido Guide. He understands pools, swimmers and how to photograph them and the photographs he took at PHISH are evidence of that. They capture the warmth that wraps around a cold-water swimming event, as well as the drama and the beauty. If you need a versatile, friendly professional photographer he's your man. You can reach him on facebook here.
Here's a small selection of his other images of the day. And if this inspires you to get into cold water swimming why not make 2019 the year it happens? Aim to swim right through the summer, outdoors, and then keep on going through autumn and into winter. You can learn a great deal from the Lone Swimmer's bible of cold water swimming, and from your fellow swimmers. Seek out your local cold water tribe, and make yourself part of it. The social side of it is enormously rewarding, and it helps to keep you safe. If you're not sure who your local cold water tribe is, or where you can find them, just drop us an email and we'll do our best to point you in the right direction.