Cold Water
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It’s a simple act, ditching your clothes and steadying your breath. Before you inch down into that brutal, icy clench.'
Jack Hudson
43% Funded | 142 Supporters

Cold Water

Jack Hudson
Status: being funded
Publication Date: TBC
  • Signed Hardback
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    First edition hardback with specially illustrated Cold Water bookplate signed by Jack and the name of your choice printed in the subscribers’ list at the back of the book.

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  • Digital
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    Digital copy of the book and the name of your choice printed in the subscribers’ list at the back of the book.

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  • Hardback
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    First edition hardback and the name of your choice printed in the subscribers’ list at the back of the book.

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  • Thermos Flask
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    Exclusive Wild Swimming Brothers thermos flask for all your post-swim needs! Fill it with everything from warm green tea to whiskey.

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  • Ice Swimmer Poster
    Ice Swimmer Poster£15.0016 Pledges

    A limited edition A3 Brockwell Lido ice swimmer caricature, sketched by Robbie and inspired by the book, exclusive to Unbound.

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    Snug limited edition bobble hat, with Robbie’s ‘Shivering Ape’ logo, exclusive to Unbound.

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    Your name listed on a special Dedication page at the front of the book as a Wild Swimming Brothers patron.

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It’s a simple act, ditching your clothes and steadying your breath. Before you inch down into that brutal, icy clench.'
Jack Hudson

In Cold Water, we follow lifelong outdoor swimmer, Jack Hudson, on a shuddering journey from the pandemic-stricken lidos of London to the geothermal rivers and 2-degree bays of Iceland.

Along the way, Jack reconnects with his semi-aquatic family, meets weathered ice swimmers (Colin Hill, Pedro Ordenes, Anna-Carin Nordin) and recounts some of the most famous endurance swims, like Lewis Pugh’s minus 1.7-degree kilometre at the North Pole and Lynne Cox’s crossing of the Bering Strait as the Cold War thawed. He also explores the science of exactly what happens to our bodies when submerged into cold water. While training with his brothers for some of the toughest feats that exist in this mysterious sport: the dreaded sub-5-degree Ice Km and Ice Mile.

It’s a simple act, ditching your clothes and steadying your breath. Before you inch down into that brutal, icy clench. Every time I do it, I go through the same internal cycle – 'Why the hell am I doing this? I feel like I’m on fire. Why didn’t I stay in bed? Aw okay, here we go. Good God, that stings…'

Thoughts break out in erratic patterns. The devil on your shoulder chitters inanely. Then comes the steady revelation – 'Wait, I feel... okay? Numb, maybe? Am I alright? Okay, this is less painful. Breathe now. Reach out. You’re okay.'

Brixton Beach

That morning, Calum and I were training for the drop into the colder season. I was meeting him to be his safety as he attempted a mile swim in sub-7C water. Residents of local boroughs affectionately refer to Brockwell as ‘Brixton Beach’. Of course, if it is a beach, it’s a distinctly British one – a gale-beaten riviera, tucked away in that land of twitchy grey squirrels, muddy morning kickabouts and walkers with jacketed dogs. Many say you’re mad for even floating the idea of getting your kit off and wading in at those degrees. It just so happens to be one of the best equipped cold water training grounds in the city.

I rode the Overground out from central London and arrived at the lido entrance with plenty of time to spare. I decided to take my role as safety a little more seriously. Over time, we’d learnt that cold water swims require an extra pair of eyes, or hands – the delirious final lengths and afterdrop are inevitable if you stay in after a certain point. Gradual acclimatisation comes from testing and stretching those limits. Still, no one wants to be the reason a lifeguard has to hurl themselves headlong from their high chair. So, in an unusual role reversal for a younger brother, I was going to be keeping an eye on him.

At that point, I knew every detail of Calum’s routine. He’d wait in his Herne Hill flat with the thermostat cranked up and his Sproodle, Hugo, clenched on his lap. He’d sit there until he was about to break sweat. Then he’d sling a rucksack of essentials over both shoulders and make a beeline for the front door. He’d march in through the wrought iron gates of Brockwell Park, like a drill sergeant. In his headphones, he’d be playing some unholy onslaught of death metal (usually Amon Amarth) – the kind of music Guantanamo prisoners were tortured to.

When I first caught sight of him, he was striding at double pace, air-drumming his way towards Brockwell’s early baptism. Ice swimming was something he’d been doing religiously for several years. I was a good safety for him because (aside from having been there through most of life, and knowing his mind fairly well) I was doing the same thing. To us, the cold water had a very strong hold that could be replicated nowhere else in civilised society. Our similar ambitions rewarded this kind of repetitive behaviour – we wanted to be able to swim anywhere in open water. No matter how cold it was.

This is a lesser known distinction in the swimming community. I guess we need to be careful not to get lost in the narcissism of small differences. As we know, an ice swim is any swim in waters less than 5C. No wetsuit. No neoprene shoes, or socks. No gloves. These are the rules set out by the International Ice Swimming Association. It’s just you. The water. And whatever you swim in to protect you. Oh! You can also have a swim cap and a pair of goggles. The cap is your best defence when brain freeze burrows between your brows, dulling your senses and blurring your vision. Other than that, you pretty much dress as you did when you came screaming into this world. Only this time the first sensation you’re faced with is the full-body shock of falling into frozen water.

Unnerving? Yes. So, why do it?

Well, that question has largely been the subject of these pages you’ve turned. I’d like to know the answer too. Whatever it is – we’ve always been drawn to admire this odd brood of goose-pimpled misfits. We’ve spent most of the past decade swimming around the world – we’ve bundled ourselves into the open waters of frigid places like Iceland, Norway and the Scottish Highlands, aspiring to last longer and swim further in sub-5C waters.

The “Why?” was something I went to at times for motivation. I even had it rattling around inside my head then – perched on a fallen tree, a short distance from the lido entrance. From there, I could see Calum’s whole approach. He couldn’t see me, but I watched him as he air drummed and cut a quick march between the joggers and dog wranglers. He looked entirely out of place among the weekend greenery of Brockwell Park. He also looked exactly as you’d expect someone too, when faced with the concrete reality of sub-7C water.

“Calum,” I called out as he rushed past my tree.

His mind was somewhere else. Confused, he pulled out his earphones and walked over. Then we went into the lido and lugged our bags through the turnstiles. Stepping outside, the 50-metre pool seemed to glow blue as it lapped in front of us. The walled confines of the lido looked somewhat stark – a little like a prison yard. A cloudless sky gave us an unhelpful impression of warmth. The ether was mirrored in the water. Human limbs flashed pink in the chop. Little waves sloshed against the entry railings.

In one corner, near the shallows, there was a coal-fired sauna. It looked like an oversized barrel on wheels. We called it the ‘lobster pot’ – our steamy haven, where reddened swimmers would pile in together and pour water on the coals and exchange niceties, between chattering teeth. The pool itself was actually quite busy. A few swimmers sat crouched in the shallows. Others stood waist deep, adjusting watches, goggles, caps… anything that could stall the shock of sinking under.

One of my favourite things about that place was picking out the characters who went there. You could see them all up close in the sauna and hear some wisdom gained from years of winter swims. You could pick out their varied personalities and approaches to cold water. First up, there was the hopping conversation-starter, who usually held court and minded the sauna door so no steam escaped. They had a tendency to only stay inside for a short period. A lot of them were double-dippers, repeatedly trading sauna steam for cold pool water – Finnish style. Others were more committed to the sauna. They stood between the benches and ‘talked to warm up’. At the other end of the scale, you met those purse-lipped lido monks, coiled by steam, who travelled inward in search of warmth and ease. Extroverts and introverts were largely unchanged by the cold. Yet between those two caricatures was a plethora of tattoo-scrawled, green-tea-swigging, Wim Hof-worshipping eccentrics, all up early for the same bizarre fix.

Our tribe – if we ever had one.

In some circles, folk describe the late season training process as getting ‘wintered’. Half the battle is just being there. As long as you keep getting in, you’ll leave with a sense of achievement. It doesn’t matter how far you swim. Lots of plodders lap up and down with a steady breaststroke – they natter and grin as they nose their way through the slog. Some of those swimmers can stay in for up to an hour. They still climb out grinning at the end of it.

Of course, there are those local legends too. Remember Julie Reynolds, for example. She swam her unratified Brockwell Ice Mile and went off to work afterwards. Again, to give you more perspective on how much that sucks – 5C was the temperature of the North Atlantic, when the Titanic sank. Yet Julie trained herself to survive the toll of an ice swim. She was so experienced in her recovery that it
didn’t even disrupt her working day.

Anyway, Julie was one of those friendly swimmers who gave Calum training tips and advice. She had this source of emotion she used to get through each swim, which she called her: ‘internal furnace’. Ice swimmers, like Julie, also have that fine-tuned barometer. They know their limits. They recognise the skin-prickling reminders of a tough recovery. They know exactly at what point they should cut their swim short. Before the drunken, fumbling recovery in which everything, even speech, is suddenly impossible. Again, our Mum was another with this uncanny ability to assess cold water, when it hit her neck. She swam at least three times a week in the lowland lochs of Dumfries – her regular training ground.

“Och no!” she’d say as she lunged into her first strokes, breathing hard, “That’s no colder than six.”

The point is that if you do this enough – acclimatise through seasonal shifts – you too could develop a similar condition of awareness. Push it too far and you’ll be reminded of your mammalian predisposition to being warm, and dry. The dull back ache, the burn in your extremities and the fogged vision, like you’ve just knocked back a few shots of whiskey. Time it right and you’ll swagger off on an endorphin high. Get it wrong and you’ll need to be nursed home, drained of colour and shivering uncontrollably.

Hence the Viking Death Metal…



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