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Talk about chilling out: How Signal Hill and the ocean keep these swimmers active in winter

Three women swimming in the ocean while wearing winter hats.
The Coldwater Cowgals swim all winter long. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

It’s hard to beat a hot summer day in Newfoundland and Labrador.

When the sun is splitting the rocks, an outdoor swim has to be one of life’s greatest pleasures.

George’s Pond on Signal Hill in St. John’s offers relief from the heat.

But when the trees lose their leaves and winter takes hold, the swimmers are long gone. That is, except for a group of die-hard dippers who call themselves the N.L. Winter Tribe.

Every Saturday they sink into the frigid water, right up to their necks. The thrill of the chill gets their blood pumping.

“It’s exciting. … It’s a bit of an adrenaline rush,” said Paul Dinn, a tribe member.

It’s that same cold rush that friends Erin Power, Erin Barnhardt and Kerrie Cochrane have come to love.

They splash around in the icy ocean a few times a week.

WATCH | Take a dive, if you dare, with these chill-seeking swimmers: 

It’s a pastime that even inspired these frost loving friends to give themselves a name — the Coldwater Cowgals — inspired by the fishing show, Coldwater Cowboys

“So then we had a name. So we were like, ‘what are we going to do with our name?’ And then we decided to just document what we were doing because we were having so much fun doing it that we just wanted a little record, a little memory of what we were doing,” said Power.

Digital scrapbooking

They started posting videos of their swims on Instagram and keep track of the weather and the water temperature.

“It’s like a scrapbook, except for it’s online and for the world to see, and we’re in our bathing suits,” said Power 

But long before they were the Coldwater Cowgals, the three women simply shared a passion for summer swims. 

“We wanted to keep swimming because we were having such fun, we were having such a good time and we kept swimming. And then, it was October and we were still swimming,” said Power.

While the drop in temperatures forced others away, their curiosity about the cold drew them into the water. They geared up with neoprene gloves, booties and jackets and took the plunge.

Their ocean swims last up to ten minutes. 

“I really now appreciate the cold and I appreciate the iciness of the water. It’s hard to describe, but it is something that now I look forward to… the wake up call. It’s really a system reset,” said Barnhardt. 

And sharing the antics of the Coldwater Cowgals on Instagram has made a splash. It’s led the women to warm connections online. 

“There’s all these groups of people who are swimming all over the world. And we have connections and little friendships with these groups all over the world now who are doing a similar thing to us,” said Power.

Making connections

The Cowgals have noticed that other swimming groups are alike in their makeup.

They’re mostly women over 40 year old with a good sense of humour.

“So there’s The Red Hot Chili Dippers, they’re in the Michigan area. And then, there’s the Dipsie Chicks, Cold Swimming Women, oh, and The Blue Tits, said Cochrane.

A collage of three women.
Kerrie Cochrane, Erin Barnhardt and Erin Power are the Coldwater Cowgals. They look forward to swimming outdoors when the water is at its coldest. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

The Coldwater Cowgals say the high numbers of women choosing cold water swimming is probably evidence of women looking for healthy ways to connect with other women. 

“And maybe you’re just warmer when you’re a woman and you’re in your 40 plus years that the cold water feels nice,” said Barnhardt. 

The Cowgals’ posts on Instagram are probably a boost for winter tourism.

Their videos are helping put Newfoundland and Labrador on the cold water swimming map. 

“When we’ve posted a picture of us swimming and there’s icebergs in the background and there’s people from other parts of the world that are saying, ‘Oh my gosh, where are you that you can swim where there’s icebergs?'” said Barnhardt. 

All three claim the activity has had a positive impact on their mental health. They say while the winter weather in Newfoundland and Labrador can be challenging, cold water swimming has brought them a new perspective

“I used to experience winter by waiting for winter to end. But this has changed the game completely and its made me more aware of the seasons and its helped me appreciate winter a lot more,” said Power. 

Land and Sea spent some time with the Coldwater Cowgals this winter. You can watch the documentary Outdoor Dipping by clicking on the video above. 

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This article is from from (CBC NEWS CANADA)

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