“Something something something f*cking cold something…”
This is how Joanna Haddock described her experience of the arctic plunge into the water of Hobart’s River Derwent.
Haddock and her friend Stefanie Funnell were two of the 1,500 swimmers who took part in the annual dip at Long Beach in Sandy Bay, Tasmania to mark the end of this year’s Dark MoFo Festival.
Oh, and everyone was stark naked except for their red swimming caps.
“It was soooo liberating, bodies of all shapes and sizes jiggling in and out of the ocean,” Funnell wrote to describe the swim.
The pair had registered for the swim months in advance as attendance this year was capped at 75 percent due to the COVID pandemic.
Pre-COVID, 2000 people plunge into the 13C water – with an outside air temperature of just 3C – as part of Hobart’s famous arts festival celebrating the winter solstice and the longest night of the year.
“The water was warmer than the air so hitting the water actually wasn’t too bad, Funnell said.
“The sand was God damn freezing so you just wanted to get your toes off it.”
The women describe arriving at the beach at 7:10am in the morning with the sun just rising above the water. They lined up, fully clothed, to have their names checked off and received their red swimming caps and towels.
At 7:25am there was a safety announcement and people started to undress so the women followed suit. As the lifesavers were acknowledged by the organisers, the crowds cheered. Then the drums started.
From the grass on the hill, a team of drummers started pounding out a steady rhythm. The beat was picked up by the crowd who begun to clap in time while screams and cheers were let out across the crowd.
“The crowd was buzzing,” Funnell said. “Giant smiles of terror and excitement on everyone’s faces. The drums got faster, reached, a crescendo, everyone screaming”.
“Flares went off, signaling everyone to drop their towels and run. Everyone dropped their towels and ran screaming into the sea.”
The women described the experience as “very primal” and a chance to feel a connection to nature.
“I realised I’ve been celebrating New Years’ this whole time, but this morning the winter solstice felt like the beginning of my year,” Haddock said. “As the sun came up over the hill and shone across the beach just after the swim, it felt like the beginning of something.”
“I got a bit teary. It was so beautiful to be in amongst bodies of all sizes and shapes, and everyone grinning and soaked and freezing. We were all huddling around the fires on the beach to keep warm while we all tried to find our towels!”
As for the actual swim, it wasn’t exactly a primer for the Olympics. The women report that almost everyone simply ran in and ran back out while only a handful swam for any length of time.
The organisers had told the crowds to not put their heads underwater due to the temperature of the sea being potentially dangerous.
After the swim, the natural high of the crowd was evident, the pair report, with total strangers grinning and congratulating each other.
“It was a very bonding experience,” Funnell said.
You might expect that being naked in front of a group of people you don’t know might be somewhat uncomfortable but the atmosphere was respectful and fun.
Leigh Carmichael, the creative director of Dark MoFo, has suggested that this year could be the final year of the festival. With the impact of COVID and local pressures from conservative groups, not to mention the controversy surrounding the artwork intended to be made from the blood of Indigenous people.
The end of Dark MoFo would be disappointing to many, not least Funnell and Haddock, who said the experience was a cleansing, invigorating one.
“I want to do it every year,” Haddock said.
“It sounded really cool,” Funnell added.
“It also sounded really scary and I think pushing yourself to do scary things once in a whole is really important.”