Cold Water / Full Immersion / Gear

The right tool for the right job

I bought a wetsuit this past weekend, with the idea that it would keep me a hint warmer and help with buoyancy, freeing me of the bulky life jacket. We were at the second hand sporting goods shop looking for biking shoes with clips. Walked out with shoes, a wetsuit, and a replacement wetsuit for Rowan (he is 9, only gets about 1 season out of a suit). Mine fit well enough when I tried it on, and I have worn them before and know how much warmer they can be, so I immediately wanted to try it out.

It worked as advertised. The added buoyancy kept my chin above water with minimal effort, and my core was noticeably less frozen. It also constricted my breathing a bit, which really began to affect me after about 8 minutes. It was difficult to get full respiratory motion- I kept feeling the need to exhale sharply, I could not inhale fully, and by 10 minutes I was pushing so hard at the end of my expiration that I began wheezing. My O2 and CO2 were obviously getting out of balance. This led to a low level panic reaction, but being close to shore and focusing on the physiology helped me maintain focus. The ladder out was also only about 12 inches away, so that helped.

All in all it was a successful swim. The suit served its purpose, and in the future I will need to invest in a properly fitted suit. Also, an insulated swim cap will be important. The brain freeze that struck my forehead each time my face was in the water for more that 3 or 4 strokes was intense.

What is interesting (in a subjective, all-about-me sort of way) is the growing sense of what I can accomplish. It is the same experience I suppose for anyone has who is engaged in a new endeavor. A majority of thought and energy is spent figuring out how to take the first few steps, then as those become familiar you can begin looking further down the road. But in this case it involves a level of regular physical discomfort that would have before now been a complete non-starter. So as I was walking to the car this morning (an activity that involves either a 200-step staircase or a steep hike up a dirt trail) I found myself thinking about the difference between ‘getting used to’ something and that same something ‘getting easier.’ I realized I am getting used to the idea of the discomfort of being in the cold water. It is NOT getting easier. The water does not feel warmer, parts of it still cause pain, and there is still a ‘holy crap this sucks’ moment when I submerge my torso. But by then I am already looking down the road. Swim against the current? Swim with it? Practice bilateral breathing, or breast stroke? is that a seal under me?

Again, my acting mentor Robin Smith once said, in reference to accessing difficult emotions while creating a character, that it is important to realize it never gets easier. You simply acclimatize yourself to the discomfort. If you wait for it to get easy you will be disappointed and constantly fall short. But if you recognize the discomfort for what it is, a physical or emotional sensation, and one that will go away, then you can find in you the strength to stay in the midst of the pain without retreating.

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