Wild Swimming in Finland
Päivi Pälvimäki is our cold water swimming idol. She’s dipped in water temperatures lower than 0°C, is writing a book about her favourite wild swimming spots throughout Finland (the first of it’s kind), and is driven by sustainability and the natural environment. We caught up with Päivi to discuss blue health, her new book and the community and culture of cold water dippers in the far north.
Hi Päivi, who are you and where are you from?
I come from the shores of the mighty and mysterious Lake Päijänne in Central Finland. At the moment my basecamp is in southern Finland, but I live and work like a nomad.
What is the coldest water temperature you’ve ever swam in?
In just under 0°C in a brook in Lapland, in the Baltic Sea, and in an icy pool under a northern waterfall, where I swam with my swim sister Vivienne Rickman.
Do you have a favourite season for outdoor swimming, and why?
Late May, when surface waters are already warm enough for longer swims and the lush spring green is everywhere. Also ski season is my favourite, because an icy swim is the best après ski fun…
Is there a strong community and cultural history of cold water swimmers in Finland?
Yes, a plunge in cold water has always been strongly connected to sauna going. Now, however, more and more people go winter swimming without a sauna, changing room or any other facilities. Especially in urban areas, because winter swimming clubs are full and because clubs and saunas were closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Winter swimming is highly regarded in Finland as socially and culturally important, but it also has a deeper meaning for swimmers, such as aiding in relaxation, giving a hormonal boost and allowing for moments of concentration.
What prompted you to start working in sustainable tourism? How do you incorporate this into Wild Swimming Finland?
Our unique waters are so important for biodiversity, landscape, recreation and in many other ways. I guide swimmers not to spread invasive alien species to waters and teach them how to respect and protect nature when hiking, swimming, paddling and camping. I also try to improve my own actions in nature by lowering my water and carbon footprint.
Can you tell us a bit about the book you’re writing on outdoor swimming in Finland? Are you visiting and swimming at every location included?
I’m so happy about the book! It will be the first one in Finnish on the subject. I’ve visited a lot of swimming locations already over the years, but I’m looking forward to scouting new amazing outdoor swims spots, routes and events. I also hope I’ll receive tips from other swimmers who are willing to share their favourite locations. And, of course, I am eagerly awaiting swimming alongside my friends and new acquaintances.
Is blue health something you value?
It is, very much so. Being near, in and upon water gives me so much, both mentally and physically. I cherish the concept of blue mind, which Dr. Wallace J. Nichols brought to light in his book of the same name. I practice blue mind in many ways in my everyday life, and it has been a lifeline in personal crisis.
Your week-long open water swimming event sounds amazing! Can you tell us a bit more about it?
It’s a fantastic adventure swimming holiday in Northern Finland and Lapland! I planned the holiday programme together with Adventure Apes, which is one of the certified Sustainable Travel Finland adventure companies. We swim along sandy ridges in wild landscapes and in stunning fell sceneries and experience cosy cottage life complete with relaxing saunas and meals by the fire.
Do you have any advice for people who want to get into cold water swimming?
Maintain eye contact with your friend to feel safe, get a hold of your breathing, surrender to the cold feeling, and then dunk three times. Then repeat 3-4 times a week. You’ll be hooked.
If Päivi has convinced you to take the plunge, then keep an eye on the Robie blog. We’ll be sharing lots of cold water swimming tips, including kit lists, safety information and our favourite spots.
To learn more about Päivi you can click here to visit her website. It’s in Finnish, but can be translated easily through Google translate by entering the website link and hitting the boxed arrow.
Photos by Vivienne Rickman