By MICHAEL FRETT
Islander Staff Writer
SOUTH HERO – Not even a sheet of ice can keep some islanders from a morning swim in Lake Champlain.
Since at least November, a group of Island residents have taken to Lake Champlain every few days, bonding initially over a daily winter swimming challenge that has gradually grown into a chance to hang out along the island’s shores.
“It’s become something we do every couple of days,” Matt Bartle, the owner of Wally’s Place and co-owner of Two Heroes Brewery in South Hero, told The Islander. “Now I just enjoy it.”
In the weeks and months since, the regular icy dips in Lake Champlain have become something Bartle said he and others enjoy, even prompting a “fear of missing out” whenever life keeps the Wally’s Place founder and Two Heroes Brewery co-owner from visiting the lake’s shores.
The group typically gathers at a member’s home on Lake Champlain. Typically, a few members wade out earlier than others to widen the gaps in the ice to accommodate the whole team. On days when the sun is out and there is little wind, Bartle said conditions can even feel warm above the water.
“You get used to it,” Bartle said.
While already a longstanding practice in much of the world, wintertime dips in lakes and ponds is becoming an increasingly popular activity among both professional athletes and everyday swimmers as some experts tout possible health benefits associated with chilly swims and others look for community activities like Burlington’s almost three decades old “Penguin Plunge” to brighten dour winters.
Some evidence exists showing cold water dips could positively impact people’s circulatory system and cut down the risks for chronic diseases like diabetes, as well as benefit the physical chemistry influencing people’s mental health, but much of the often-cited evidence for cold water swims is anecdotal and few existing studies appear conclusive.
Published research on cold water swimming is also often quick to note the practice comes with its own risks, particularly the chance for an immediate shock associated with icy lakeside dips.
For locals like Bartle, there are health benefits they are “all sort of aspiring to,” but the regular winter dips in Lake Champlain have been beneficial in other ways. Bartle described it as a “confidence booster” and “revitalizing,” as well as a chance to frequently socialize with a handful of fellow South Hero locals.
“For me, it’s been strangely addictive,” Bartle told The Islander. “For those of us who have children, we go over to this person’s house and it’s like a coffee hour – if you will.”
“Mostly,” he added with a laugh, “it’s just cold.”
Photos by Paula Bradley, Islander Contributor.