It’s been three years since our last New Year’s Day swim. That time we had strong winds and big seas to contend with. This year, the sea was smooth, the sky deep blue, and Mt. Fuji looked close enough to touch. Seven of us met at Ohama Beach and tried not to think too much about the cold awaiting us.
The water is 15oC now – it doesn’t sound too cold, but my body knows different. As I slowly enter, a chill climbs quickly from my toes, but it is not until it reaches my chest that I feel an invisible hand pulling me back to the warmth of the beach. Time to take the plunge. This is always the worst bit. The cold sends needles into my sinuses and for a few minutes I have lost my body. And then suddenly the needles withdraw and I am wrapped in a tingling warmth that tricks me into thinking I could swim forever in this invigorating water. As I took each breath, I caught fleeting glimpses of our group towing their orange and yellow swim buoys, snow-covered Mt. Fuji rising up behind them. To complete the scene, an outrigger canoe slowly paddled past.
We swam out to Chojagaski, over rocks festooned with sea urchins, and onto the spit which connects it to the mainland. The cold was creeping back, so we turned and swam straight back. The tingling warmth was quickly being replaced by the growing knowledge that all was not right with my body. I didn’t feel exactly cold, rather I was starting to feel clumsy and befuddled. The beach didn’t seem to be getting any nearer. I stopped at some rocks to watch the fish, and then to take some more pictures. One part of me was saying swim straight back, the other part was in no hurry. I swam, I stopped, I swam, I stopped. One last effort and the beach rose up to meet me. I was on my feet, dazed but not yet aware of how cold I had become. We’d swum just a kilometre but it felt exhilarating.
Returning to Ohama Beach
Half way back to the car park my body started trembling, and then shaking, and finally quaking in its efforts to fight the cold inside. Dressing was a challenge. My hands wouldn’t function, nor would my brain. I lost my balance, sat down on the grass, and tried to work out where to put my socks. Slowly, I pulled on one layer after another and found sensation returning. It had been a 45-minute cycle of apprehension, shock, warmth, joy, cooling, confusion, deep cold, and recovery. Quite amazing for the cost of a pair of swimming trunks and goggles.
Ohama Beach, Hayama, January 1st, 2017