Arctic ocean swimming has long been practiced in Iceland but in recent years the trend has become increasingly popular with more people than ever taking a dip into the icy Atlantic Ocean. Ocean swimming differs significantly from your normal type of winter bathing as the ocean swimmers will spend several minutes in the water, covering a distance of up to 1 kilometre or up to 45 minutes in the water depending on the temperature.
We met with one of the oldest ocean swimmers in Iceland, Haukur Bergsteinsson, age 81, on a cold and stormy April morning. The sea temperature was 3.4 degrees Celsius and waves were going high. "The weather hasn't stopped me thus far," Haukur proudly comments, as the wind almost sweeps us of our feet. Haukur, who recently celebrated his 1500th swim in the ocean, began swimming in 2008 after having contemplated on the idea for a long time and instantly got hooked. "I initially started by spending one minute in the water," Haukur says. He then steadily increased the time spent in the water by one minute each time he went swimming. After 20 trips he was spending 20 minutes in the water. After that he stopped counting and now just listens to his body. A swim is always finished off with a trip to the outdoor hot tub – Haukur enjoys the adrenaline rush and the extreme feeling from entering the hot tub after being in the water. "If I don't feel a tingling sensation in the body and rush going through the system – I know I did not spend enough time in the water." Ocean swimming is a social activity and there is a strong sense of community among the swimmers.
"It has become an essential part of my life."
According to Haukur, there is no doubt that ocean swimming is good for your health – both physical and mental. Haukur, who previously suffered from cancer, regularly undergoes physical examination and his health readings seem to correlate with his ocean swimming habits, keeping his health in check. Haukur says he's almost never sick, rarely catches a cold, and when he does he goes into the water and afterwards feels much better. The only exception is when he has the flu and a fever. Haukur mentions that people who suffer from depression achieve great results from the swimming and refers to mindfulness groups who regularly come to swim in the water.
Having taken a break for only four months since he started, Haukur says he will continue swimming as long as he can: "It has become an essential part of my life."
Heat oil in a large pan at medium-high heat. Add chorizo and fry for about 1 minute. Add potatoes and fry, stirring occasionally until potatoes start to brown. Cover and reduce heat to medium and cook until potatoes are tender.
Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and stir. Cover and cook until potatoes are golden and mushrooms are tender. Add the parsley. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 320°F. Make the butter mixture. In a bowl, mix shallots, parsley, chives, capers, thyme and lemon zest into the butter.
Heat a roasting pan to medium high heat and add 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil. Place char fillets in the pan, skin side down. Brush the fillets with the butter mixture and then add the rest to the pan. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Toast in the oven for about 10 minutes or until fillets are brown and come easily apart.
Serve fillets skin side up, with potatoes and pan juices drizzled over.