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."
Icelandic skyr sauce
100 ml skyr
1 tbsp lemon juice
Zest of ¼ lemon
Mix into a bowl the skyr,lemon juice and zest in and season to taste. Add 2 tbsp dill oil to the sauce just before service.
100 ml rapeseed oil
100 gr fresh dill
Put the oil and dill into a blender, mix a few minutes (until warm), strain through a cloth. The result should be a dark green and flavourful oil.
Pickled fennel & pickled pearl onion
100 ml apple vinegar
100 ml water
100 gr caster sugar
½ fennel bulb, thinly sliced
6 pearl onions
Peel the perl onions and blanch for 1 minúte in boiling water, strain and put aside in a small bowl. Slice the fennel as thin as possible and put aside into a small bowl. In a pan mix the vinegar, water and caster sugar and bring to a boil. Divide the liquid into the bowls and leave to rest for at least 30 minutes before serving.