Tairua swimmers thrive on cold ocean dips

14 Sep 2021

When Donna Brooke started swimming in the cold ocean at the crack of dawn her husband declared she was mad and their dog Rover seemed to agree.

But what started with Donna’s habit of short cold showers developed into Tairua Sea Dippers - a bunch of people enjoying the exhilaration of regular swims in the chilly sea for the sake of their health.

“It all started in our first lockdown,” explains Donna. “I wanted to improve my health, mentally and physically and started taking cold showers. I’d start with 15 seconds then went up to three minutes and, once we were out of Level 3, I went for ocean swims at about 7:30am in the morning.”

Some people spotted the happy swimmer and decided to join her. Through word of mouth, they became up to 20 regular swimmers, sometimes including children. 

“If Tairua’s Ocean Beach is too rough, we dip in the water at the bottom of Mount Paku,” says Donna. “While dipping, we chat away and it’s such a buzz we feel on top of the world!”

Donna has asthma and has found an improvement in her physical as well as mental health. She says research on the benefits of immersing yourself in cold water includes helping people with Alzheimer’s. “I’m also told it’s good for removing fat,” she says. “My understanding is it triggers the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response and when you stay in cold water the body goes in to ‘fight’. I’ve done an on-line course by Wim Hoff who is nicknamed the ice man.

“I have, on occasions, done ice baths. It’s hard, it’s the ultimate and not something I’d recommend you start with. But it’s all a bit mind over matter.”

Sometimes Donna takes a thermometer down to the sea and has recorded 12 degrees, which can risk a case of mild hypothermia if not conditioned to the cold. She says the best way to start is with 15 second cold showers. Progressing to early morning swims in a group is safe and convivial. 

“We laugh so much and it makes you feel so happy,” says Donna. “I’ve got a friend living on Paku who knows when we swim nearby because she can hear us all laughing.”

Donna’s husband, Chris, does not share her enthusiasm or join her. 

“Actually he thinks we are all mad idiots”, she laughs.

And his view is shared by their retrodoodle dog, Rover, who used to join Donna when she swam in summer’s warm seas. But after one of the colder dips, Rover decided to remain on the shore and watch.

The couple own Sunlover Retreat in Tairua and Chris runs the internet service, Go Tairua. Donna is also a celebrant and has been a member of Tairua-Pauanui Community Board.

There are a couple of guys in the group and one is Dave Donovan who joined about three months ago. 

The local semi-retired property developer did an intensive course in Bali in which participants plunged into water with ice in it.  Temperatures started at eight degrees and went down to six “then basically to zero”, he says with enthusiasm.

“When you get down to around eight degrees you have to focus on breathing because your brain wants to go in to shock. In this situation it’s important to breathe through the nose and focus on a tree or something and smile. Then your body relaxes.”

Dave pointed out that at such low temperatures it was important to get out of the pool if you start shivering. He reckons there are tons of benefits to the cold water regime “and you can even burn body fat while you are just sitting”.

Pictured: The intrepid Tairua Sea Dippers are a cheerful bunch. Photo credit Kaylie Finnis (picture taken before the most recent Covid-19 restrictions).