How Cold Can Cold Get?

How Cold Can Cold Get?

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

After pondering the world record set by Paul Georgescu of Romania who swam 3.5 km over 57 minutes 56 seconds in 4.43°C lake water, it is always interesting to discuss what is the toughest ice swim.

Steven Munatones, a Cool Member of the International Ice Swimming Association, opined that cold is defined by various measures where everyone has their own individual cold water scale.  “The ice swimmers are extending the boundaries was is considered possible as they swim ever faster, ever further and ever longer in the cold water. But it has always been my belief – based on climatic conditions and personal experiences – that water temperature is different based on where and when you are swimming. For example, at the same measured water temperature, freshwater seems colder than saltwater, and sea level versus high altitude swims seems colder than sea level swims

In my experience, these are various levels of difficulty of cold water swimming. The degrees of cold perception seem to be, for me, as follows with #1 being the most difficult and #3 being the easiest:

  1. High altitude freshwater
  2. Sea level freshwater
  3. Saltwater (with the assumption that saltwater is nearly always near sea level)

But if you throw in air temperature, wind speed, clouds, darkness and jellyfish, then cold perception become more intense. Considering those various conditions, this would be my perception scale of difficulty:

  1. High altitude freshwater with low air temperatures and high winds at night
  2. High altitude freshwater with low air temperatures and low winds at night
  3. High altitude freshwater with low air temperatures and no wind at night
  4. High altitude freshwater with low air temperatures and high winds during day
  5. High altitude freshwater with low air temperatures and low winds during day
  6. High altitude freshwater with low air temperatures and no wind during day
  7. High altitude freshwater with moderate air temperatures and high winds at night
  8. High altitude freshwater with moderate air temperatures and low winds at night
  9. High altitude freshwater with moderate air temperatures and no wind at night
  10. High altitude freshwater with moderate air temperatures and high winds during day
  11. High altitude freshwater with moderate air temperatures and low winds during day
  12. High altitude freshwater with moderate air temperatures and no wind during day
  13. Sea level freshwater with low air temperatures and high winds at night
  14. Sea level freshwater with low air temperatures and low winds at night
  15. Sea level freshwater with low air temperatures and no wind at night
  16. Sea level freshwater with low air temperatures and high winds during day
  17. Sea level freshwater with low air temperatures and low winds during day
  18. Sea level freshwater with low air temperatures and no wind during day
  19. Sea level saltwater with low air temperatures and high winds at night
  20. Sea level saltwater with low air temperatures and low winds at night
  21. Sea level saltwater with low air temperatures and no wind at night
  22. Sea level saltwater with low air temperatures, high winds at night, and jellyfish stings
  23. Sea level saltwater with low air temperatures, low winds at night, and jellyfish stings
  24. Sea level saltwater with low air temperatures, no wind at night, and jellyfish stings
  25. Sea level saltwater with moderate air temperatures, high winds during day, and jellyfish stings
  26. Sea level saltwater with moderate air temperatures, low winds during day, and jellyfish stings
  27. Sea level saltwater with moderate air temperatures, no wind during day, and jellyfish stings
  28. Sea level freshwater with moderate air temperatures and high winds at night
  29. Sea level freshwater with moderate air temperatures and low winds at night
  30. Sea level freshwater with moderate air temperatures and no wind at night
  31. Sea level freshwater with moderate air temperatures and high winds during day
  32. Sea level freshwater with moderate air temperatures and low winds during day
  33. Sea level freshwater with moderate air temperatures and no wind during day
  34. Sea level saltwater with moderate air temperatures and high winds during day
  35. Sea level saltwater with moderate air temperatures and low winds during day
  36. Sea level saltwater with moderate air temperatures and no wind during day

Ram Barkai [shown below on WOWSA Live], who has officially completed 11 ratified Ice Miles and 17 ratified Ice Kilometers, is the world’s expert on cold water swimming and the founder of the International Ice Swimming Association, “I agree there are a lot of variables and factors that can make every swim and record different.

At the International Ice Swimming Association for record-keeping purposes, we decided not to differentiate between salt and fresh water. Salt water gives some form of advantage, but it is mostly swum in open water. Most IISA competitions are held in a frozen fresh water lake or outdoor fresh water pools. So it makes our life easier in comparing records in competitions.

Ice Mile falls under the Adventure Swims category in IISA.  When I swam my first Ice Mile, there were no records, or recorded records and there was no IISA.

In time, as we grow, we introduced new categories for records. Everyone claims their own world records, so we had to set few categories and grow it over time. Some technical differences will possibly become new categories and will attract new records in the future. At the moment in the Adventures category we have the following records categories:

  • Longest Ice Swim – distance only – currently only overall, but Male and Female records are coming. It is a controversial record due to its high risk, but I believe risk needs to be studied and managed rather than simply avoided.
  • Fastest Ice Mile – We pro rata all Ice Miles to a Mile distance and set the time taken to do a mile in both Male and Female divisions. We are aware that this will lead to people selecting an Ice Mile location and conditions. It is part of the game.
  • Oldest Male and Female records in the Ice Mile.

We don’t recognize the longest duration. We cannot encourage people to swim slower in the Ice on purpose. We also have Extreme Ice Mile which is not a category, yet, without records. In the future, it will come. This covers altitude, air temperature, water temperature, distance and duration of swim. The Extreme Ice Mile records will be published soon.

We also have the Ice Zero Mile – but we have no records yet. It will come. We have Ice Sevens, but we can’t have youngest as we have 18 year olds as our age limit. Conversely, we don’t have upper age limits. 

In the open water or in the adventure category, many factors come to play.  The sun, clouds and wind are also big factors in my mind. Sun is hugely mental, but it helps a lot. Wind is a killer – our upper body is wet and therefore conduct heat or lose it at around 30 times faster.”

Top Extreme Ice Mile Swimmers:

  1. Paul Georgescu (42, Romania) 3.5 km in 57 minutes 56 seconds in February 2021 in 4.43°C lake water
  2. Hamza Bakircioglu (48, Turkey) 3.44 km in 1 hour 8 minutes in February 2018 in 4.13°C sea water and 0.00°C air
  3. Jack Boyle (25, Ireland) 3.3 km in 54 minutes 59 seconds in February 2016 in 4.63°C pool water
  4. Carmel Collins (41, Ireland) 3.3 km in 57 minutes 45 seconds in February 2016 in 4.63°C pool water and 8.00°C air
  5. Andrew Allum (46, Great Britain) 2.99 km in 47 minutes 25 seconds in February 2015 in 4.60°C open water and 7.00°C air
  6. Henri Kaarma (46, Estonia) 2.4 km in 41 minutes 57 seconds in March 2013 in 0.01°C open water and 0.00°C air
  7. Paul Duffield (51, Canada) 2.32 km in 54 minutes 2 seconds in March 2013 in 4.00°C open water and 0°C air
  8. Colleen Mallon (35, Ireland) 2.32 km in 32 minutes 49 seconds in August 2020 in 4.27°C lake water and 1.00°C air
  9. Ram Barkai (63, South Africa) 2.3 km in 43 minutes in January 2009 in 4.00°C open water and 0.00°C air
  10. Bhakti Sharma (31, India) 2.28 km in 41 minutes 14 seconds in January 2015 in 1.00°C open water and 4.00°C air
  11. Aleksandr Brylin (44, Russia) 2.2 km in 1 hour 5 minutes 6 seconds in December 2012 in 0.03°C open water and -33.00°C air
  12. Andrey Sychev (54, Russia) 2.2 km in 1 hour 6 minutes 30 seconds in December 2012 in 0.03°C open water and -33.00°C air
  13. Paul Bieber (37, Germany) 2.2 km in 43 minutes 3 seconds in January 2021 in 4.90°C lake water and 6.20°C air
  14. Henri Kaarma (46, Estonia) 2.16 km in 33 minutes in March 2013 in 0.01°C open water and 0.00°C air
  15. Jochen Aumüller (43, Germany) 2.14 km in 39 minutes 33 seconds in February 2015 in 4.57°C open water
  16. James Brown (Great Britain) 2.12 km in 54 minutes 27 seconds in November 2013 in 3.90°C open water and 2.50°C air
  17. Mark Dempsey (45, Ireland) 2.12 km in 45 minutes 21 seconds in January 2021 in 4.93°C river water and 5.20°C air
  18. Jonty Warneken (48, Great Britain) 2.11 km in 58 minutes 54 minutes in January 2014 in 4.87°C open water and 7.50°C air
  19. Ger Kennedy (51, Ireland) 2.09 km in 51 minutes 10 seconds in March 2014 in 3.30°C open water and 2.50°C air
  20. Zdeněk Tlamicha (48, Czech Republic) 2.01 km in January 2014 in 42 minutes 15 seconds in 3.80°C open water and 3.0°C air
  21. Jaroslav Chytil (45, Czech Republic) in 2.01 km in 57 minutes 50 seconds in March 2016 4.33°C lake water and 3.80°C air
  22. Ger Kennedy (51, Ireland) 2.01 km in 43 minutes 10 seconds in December 2017 in 0.50°C pool water and -15.0°C air
  23. Michael Pranckl (47, Austria) 2.01 km in 34 minutes 11 seconds in August 2020 in 3.90°C lake water and 3.30°C air
  24. Charmian Frend (51, Australia) 2.01 km in 37 minutes 4 seconds in August 2020 in 4.07°C lake water and 4.80°C air
  25. Amanda Bell (49, Great Britain) 2.0 km in 44 minutes 4 seconds in February 2014 in 4.70°C open water and 0.0°C air
  26. Theo Pearson (35, Great Britain) 2.0 km in 38 minutes 38 seconds in November 2016 in 4.00°C lake water and -2.20°C air
  27. Claire Ryan (42, Ireland) 2.0 km in 56 minutes 19 seconds in January 2021 in 4.70°C lake water and 1.00°C air

An Extreme Ice Mile (EIS) is a recognized Ice Mile by the International Ice Swimming Association with at least one of the following factors: (i) water temperature is at 2ºC or below, (ii) air temperature / wind chill is below -10ºC, (iii) distant attempted is longer than 2 km, and (iv) swim time is greater than 45 minutes.

Photo above shows Polish swimmer Ola Bednarek.

Copyright © 2008 – 2021 by World Open Water Swimming Association