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Local swimmers make the splash to defy winter

NOT even the ice-cold temperatures of the River Derwent could keep these thrill seekers at bay, with members of the Winter Ocean and Sea Swimming Association (WOSSA) braving the winter chill

The WOSSA was established about four years ago and is a spin-off of the summer group, the Taroona Ocean and Sea Swimming Association (TOSSA), although with a few twists.

Every Sunday, the group members, aptly titled the WOSSAs, gather on a beach at Taroona at 8:15am and take the plunge into the chilly waters.

“The rules are no wetsuits, a cap is reasonably mandatory unless you want your head to fall off, and you’ve got to stay in for a minimum of four minutes,” WOSSA captain Stuart Tanner said.

“Cold water dipping has always been something I’ve always done because it’s just fun, and when I started ocean swimming, I started to really get the benefit of distance swimming and I started staying in the cold water for slightly longer.

“It’s really challenging, but when you come out you feel incredible and it really invigorates you for the day ahead.”

Mr Tanner said there were a number of health benefits to cold water swimming.

“It’s really good for your cardiovascular system and for pumping up your circulation, but you definitely have to be careful – if you’ve never done it before you can’t just strip off and run into 11 degree water because people can get into trouble,” he said.

“We generally stay close to shore and we always look out for each other.”

Mr Tanner said the temperatures can get to as low as nine degrees during mid-July, or even colder if there had been snow melt from Mount Wellington.

“It’s great fun and a crazy thing to do – it’s defying winter,” he said.

The WOSSAs are made up of locals from across Hobart, including former Premier David Bartlett and former ABC newsreader Peter Gee.

“There are three reasons I do this,” Mr Bartlett said.

“One is mental health, as I find it starts your week bright and ready to go, the second is physical health, but the third, and most important, is the comradery.

“A bunch of guys and girls having a laugh and a shout, it puts a smile on your face, and we have a cup of tea or coffee afterwards over a chin wag – it’s a lovely way to start the week.”

Mr Gee said he started ocean swimming five years ago.

“You come down dreading it, but once you’re in you all of a sudden think of how glad you are that you did this,” he said.

“I would have never thought I would have been stupid enough to do this, but once you start doing it, you think everybody should do it – we’ve got this whole river to ourselves.”

Mr Gee said since the COVID-19 restrictions he had seen a significant increase in people swimming in the river.

“They’ve got the place to themselves, and there have been far more people swimming in the river the last couple of months,” he said.

“I think that it needs to become a Winter Olympic sport.”

Caption: From left, WOSSA members captain Stuart Tanner, former ABC newsreader Peter Gee, former Premier David Bartlett and other members doing the WOSSA salute.