“Wetsuit Shaming,” LOL: WOLF STREET Drags WSJ Through San Francisco Bay Mud for the Clickbait Flotsam it Published about Cold-Water Swimming

Kudos to the Wall Street Journal for having excelled once again with such acuity.

By Wolf Richter for WOLF STREET.

The WSJ published a funny article on cold-water swimming – “Wetsuit Shaming in San Francisco Divides Bay Area Swimmers.” And once again, I’m going to have to whack the WSJ over the head with its own article.

The author, Robert McMillan, says he is a member of the South End Rowing Club in San Francisco, which is next door to the Dolphin Swimming & Boating Club, where I’m a member. Both clubs, among the oldest athletic clubs in San Francisco, share the same beach. From the article, I gather that he swims with a wetsuit, but I can’t tell for sure, and it doesn’t matter here. I used to swim with a wetsuit, until I took it off one day – but not, as he claims about someone else, because of “wetsuit shaming.”

Robert says hilariously that “some Bay swimmers refuse to wear these potentially lifesaving devices because they consider them a form of cheating.”

With this comment, Robert revealed that he doesn’t get cold-water swimming, which then led him neck-deep into nonsense, published by the WSJ. So, I’ll help him out.

Some basics.

From the article, it seems Robert isn’t aware of what cold water does to you when you swim in it, just you, your swimsuit, goggles, and thermal cap – how it impinges on your skin with ferocious intensity while you’re totally immersed in nature, in currents and waves, amid waterfowl that don’t take you seriously, the occasional seal that comes up to check you out, or the sea lion that you really want to stay away from.

Your body generates a cocktail of chemicals to help you survive in this water. Before Christmas, the temperature dipped below 50° F, but has since warmed up to 52° or 53°. Afterwards, you get this beautiful high. You walk around with a smile on your face for hours.

This is why, for some people, this experience is addictive. That’s why we swim without a wetsuit. Other people don’t have that kind of experience. They might try it once, and it’s just a horror. And they swim with a wetsuit henceforth, which is great. At least they’re swimming in the Bay.

I started out swimming with a wetsuit, but then one day in the summer, when the water wasn’t cold, I took the wetsuit off, and it was liberating and wonderful and intense. I got used to the cold water, and I got addicted.

That’s the reality of cold-water swimming: It’s wonderful, it’s intense, it immerses you in nature like nothing else. It takes your mind off everything. It’s addictive. A good swim is like two weeks’ vacation. That’s why people swim without a wetsuit in cold water.

Fairness in a race, not “wetsuit shaming.”

Let’s return to Robert’s masterpiece, where he failed to say that a wetsuit makes you faster, a lot faster, because the buoyancy lifts your body further out of the water, which reduces drag. This is particularly advantageous to a lean body-type like mine that sinks. The fact that they make you faster is why they are not allowed in pool competitions.

So the swim events that the author mentions – they’re competitions! And it would be unfair if wetsuit swimmers are allowed to compete on an equal basis with everyone else. We don’t allow fins and other “swim aids” either. That has nothing to do with “wetsuit shaming,” but with fairness in a race.

Avoiding a mess, not “wetsuit shaming.”

Robert goes on to bitch about South-Enders not being allowed after the swim to take their wetsuits off inside the locker-room, but that they have to take it off outside on the dock.

Same at the Dolphin Club. The reason is simple. A wetsuit, after you get through swimming, holds water, mud, sand, and assorted plankton. As you peel it off, this stuff drips and trickles all over the floor and makes a huge mess.  People can put on their dry wetsuit in the locker-room, but they have to take it off outside and let it dry outside, which makes perfect sense. That’s not “wetsuit shaming” but just practical.

That’s how it was explained to me when I first showed up at the Dolphin Club with my wetsuit. Everyone knows this – except our friend Robert.

Rolling out a professor stunned by “wetsuit shaming.”

So, in good old WSJ manner, Robert goes on to cite a professor of biology. Robert says: “In 50-degree water, the first stages of hypothermia can kick in after just 10 minutes, according to John A. Downing, a professor of biology with the University of Minnesota’s Large Lakes Observatory. “Wetsuit shaming. I find that hysterical,” he [the professor] says. “Why would you shame someone for trying to stay alive?”

First: Dear Prof. Downing, don’t worry, “wetsuit shaming” is a figment of Robert’s imagination. And yes, it’s ridiculous.

Second: Yes, hypothermia can be deadly, and swimmers can die if they get it wrong. People die skiing, bicycling (get hit by a freaking car!), running, hiking, rock-climbing, crossing the street…. Cold water swimming is intense. Lean people like me lack the natural neoprene layer that others have, and we have to manage our time in the cold water prudently. Other swimmers with enough natural neoprene can swim in it for hours. I have to exert myself to stay warm in 50° water. But I see other folks just treading water and chatting about their latest recipe or whatever. Everyone has to learn how it works for them. And for some people, swimming with a wetsuit may be the way to go, and that’s great.

Other silliness in the piece.

So Robert goes on: “With the water hovering just above 50 degrees this month—and air temperature in the 50s too—that is just one of many hazards Bay swimmers face: they could exhaust themselves fighting strong currents, be bitten by aggressive sea lions, or even cross paths with the occasional ocean tanker.”

The last item — “cross paths with the occasional ocean tanker” — is just silly. Where we swim on our own, at the Aquatic Club “cove,” and outside going east near the breakwater and the piers, or going west past Fort Mason towards the St. Francis Yacht Club, there are no ocean tankers. There are no ships at all.

Further offshore – but we don’t swim there on our own – there is a shipping lane, and container ships mostly ply it in direction of the Port of Oakland. The tankers pass a couple of miles further north, north of Alcatraz, to go to the refineries in Richmond and along the San Pablo Bay. Robert, go have a look at a map of the Bay.

For swim events that cross the shipping lanes, such as the swims from Alcatraz back to the club: The swim commissioner schedules them with the Coast Guard well in advance, and they shut down traffic in the shipping lane for the time of the event. And boats from the club accompany the swimmers.

Kudos to the Wall Street Journal for having excelled once again with such acuity.

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  114 comments for ““Wetsuit Shaming,” LOL: WOLF STREET Drags WSJ Through San Francisco Bay Mud for the Clickbait Flotsam it Published about Cold-Water Swimming

  1. Andrew says:

    Yessss thank you for taking this reporter to task. Also, thank you for not having pop-ups that ask me to subscribe to emails like every other site.

    • Erik says:

      This is why I cancelled my WSJ subscription years ago. Nearly all of their articles are as asinine as this…particularly ones related to markets and the Fed.

      The sooner they replace their writers with AI the better.

      Thanks for highlighting this Wolf!

  2. Michael Engel says:

    Switch to gradual maintenance to keep what u got, reduce intensity, instead of trying to beat the guys in their twenties.
    Wolf, you are old. Adjusted activities for the next 50 years, forget about the last 50 years.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      “Wolf, you are old.”

      It’s weird being the same age as old people.

      • Yort says:

        I use to love walking in sub freezing temps in shorts and sandals back in the day when I lived in an area that averaged 140 inches of snow a year. I remember walking in town and having people gasp and ask me if I was freezing to death. It really seemed to bother some people, never sure why but I think it is human nature to think what is bad for one person is bad for another, etc.
        Yet for me it was exhilarating…

        Yet beware and enjoy your ability to endure and enjoy extreme cold. For example, in middle age I now have Raynaud’s disease where the smaller arteries that supply blood to the skin narrow to the point where my fingers, nose, and toes turn plum purple and hurt like heck if I get shocked to much by cold water or air. Yet I can easily work outside on house projects in above 100 degree temperatures with absolutely no issues at all, and the guys half my age I hire basically get heat stroke in just a few hours. Yet maybe they can handle -20 degrees that would literally kill me now, so who am I or anyone else to judge what temperature other humans enjoy most when outside in nature where it doesn’t affect any other humans negatively, other than their “mental trauma” of someone else being different???

        Live and let live…

      • Greg says:

        And that’s why you are a curmudgeon in the comments section!

      • Wolf Richter says:

        Just to clarify: I’m actually not “old,” I’m just not as young anymore as I used to be.

        • Wisdom Seeker says:

          LOL … I’ve noticed that high school kids do appear younger every year…

          Or to quote a classic song: “Everybody’s so different, I haven’t changed.”

          BTW, I always wondered whether the conventional wisdom that “it’s impossible to escape from Alcatraz by swimming” was accurate or not. Based on the swim events, would an Alcatraz prisoner in decent physical shape, reasonably experienced at swimming, and with a plan to cope with the current, have a chance? Or would peak physical conditioning, serious swim training and some gear be needed?

        • El Katz says:

          May not be as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.

          With apologies to Toby Keith

        • Mojer says:

          There are people who want to go to a nursing home at 50, others who never feel ready to go.
          Feeling old is just a mental thing.
          If you think you are old you are really old, it doesn’t matter how old or young your years really are.

        • joe2 says:

          Trust me, you will get old and admit it. Unless you die. Nothing new here.

          I’m not a fan of cold water having been a warm water surfer. But I have had a few cold showers with snow blowing in the window in other parts of the world. And it is invigorating.

  3. Cytotoxic says:

    This article mostly just made me bitter over having lost the lean build I used to have. Getting old is cringe.

  4. Apple says:

    What about shrinkage?

    • Zaridin says:

      Unless you are trying to engage in sex while swimming in cold water – a valid way to keep warm, I suppose, but probably very unwise overall – it doesn’t matter. Your body is designed to deal with temperature changes.

  5. Xavier Caveat says:

    The club swims from Alcatraz, hmmmmm.

  6. Ed C says:

    Hyperventilating is real. Cold water does it to me. I’ll never get used to cold water and I don’t need to. I live in the desert.

  7. American Dream says:


    What a tool bag that guy must be

  8. TK says:

    Nice. He should have interviewed you first. I used to race 16 foot catamarans in the NJ ocean. Sometimes warm but mostly cold. But we never cared about cold. So much published material is junk. Many love that junk. I think our collective reasoning has been clouded over by media pollution. Thanks you for accuracy over whatever he did.

  9. Ted T. says:

    I was a pretty serious runner most of my adult life. Living up north, I used to run with a T shirt and shorts down to about 32 degrees (depending on the wind). The first three miles were uncomfortable because I always took it easy until I was warmed up, no problem. I agree it was stimulating and made me feel alive for hours after. Sadly, my running days are over due to age and multiple knee surgeries. Enjoy Wolf, for as long as you can!

    • elbowwilham says:

      I run in shorts down to 29. After that I put on some leggings. I wore my leggings for the first time this year on Monday. I usually warm up after the first mile, so its pretty uncomfortable until then. But after that initial mile the rest of the cold run is very enjoyable. And the smile on my face lasts all day.

      I plan to run until my knees give out also. I’m in my mid 40s so hopefully I have another 30 years at least.

      • elbowwilham says:

        I do a lot of running in the Rockies during the summer. I love sitting in a cold mountain lake or river after a long run. The water feels close to freezing, but it does wonders to my sore body.

  10. Rosarito Dave says:

    Wolf, I read this and my immediate reaction is the WSJ author provided a CLASSIC microcosm of journalism in particular and the world in general. It seems EVERYONE is an expert in their minds and ANYONE who has a different belief or take on something, is wrong… or even dangerous to others.

    It just seems there is an increasing trend towards trying to control the narrative of whatever subject someone thinks needs to be controlled.

    Thanks for pointing out (thru your OWN experience), the fallacy of this author’s perspective…..

    • Wisdom Seeker says:

      What’s even more dangerous is that so many people “live through their devices” and only take in what others show them, rather than looking for themselves with their own eyes.

      As a result, too many people are living in an unreal world.

      Twain had a great quote on this – If you don’t read the news, you’re uninformed. But if you read the news – you’re misinformed!

  11. Gattopardo says:

    I saw that this morning. I don’t love wetsuits, but there’s NFW I would swim in that water even with one. I prefer to be able to see well beyond my outstretched hand. But then maybe in that bay you don’t want to see what’s around. You bay swimmers have ballz.

    I laughed at the tanker comment, too. As if dudes are just freely crossing back and forth to Alcatraz at any time.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      “I prefer to be able to see well beyond my outstretched hand.”

      Yes, would be nice. We already call the water “amazingly clear” when we can see end of our arms.

      “But then maybe in that bay you don’t want to see what’s around.”

      Most def yes, better not to see.

      • Keith Matthews says:

        Surfed the coast from Santa Cruz up in the 80’s.
        Big whitey spooks me.

      • Keith Matthews says:

        Surfed the coast from Santa Cruz up in the 80’s.
        Big whitey spooks me.

        Most readers would not know the diff if you hadn’t pointed it out.

        Risk on Wolf.

      • Gattopardo says:

        “Yes, would be nice. We already call the water “amazingly clear” when we can see end of our arms.”

        Don’t ever open water swim in Hawaii. I complained about pools looking a little cloudy after that.

    • Digger Dave says:

      Sounds like New England swimming, in both lakes and ocean. Sharks? Crabs (Horseshoe, Rock, Jonah)? Jelly fish? Who wants to see these things up close? Many a swim was ended when something brushed your leg.

  12. All Good Here Mate says:

    I saw this article (got blocked by the paywall) and immediately thought of your swimming you have previously mentioned.

    I like the WSJ, but here again is another perfectly laid out debunking of goobly gock in a once prestigious paper… are there even any left any longer? It also gives real perspective on what you report about SF / Bay Area versus all the rest of the media.

    As a Florida Man (yes, that was intended) I find the idea of cold water swimming abhorrent and quite possibly the cause of everything that is wrong in the world. Seriously, you are one tough hombre that can do that. I do enjoy your occasional forays into the subject.

  13. Eric says:

    “The author, Robert McMillan, says he is a member of the South End Rowing Club in San Francisco, which is next door to the Dolphin Swimming & Boating Club…”

    So how did he get it so wrong? Didn’t think anybody like Wolf would call him out?
    That’s usually how bad journos get by.

    Or is it just, rowers do not like swimmers? Rowing and boating are not the same.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      The South End club has a lot of excellent swimmers, including marathon swimmers. The name of the club — “swimming” is missing — is misleading.

  14. cb says:

    Good job Wolf?
    WSJ ………….. not so much.

  15. Seba says:

    I don’t know much about swimming but if all of this is true then it’s absolutely hilarious.. and pretty sad at the same time. In an era where the profession of journalism is losing trust with people, rolling out a fluff piece and then going so far as to find a professor to cite in order to add credence to your argument, well.. all I can say is I hope Wolfstreet.com is doing well and I hope it keeps picking up new fans.

  16. Brendan says:

    I’m jealous Wolf. I grew up on Long Island but have lived in VT for many years now. I miss the ocean more than anything. There’s no better feeling than being in that water. Oh, and WSJ is a tool of corporate propaganda. BS from cover to cover.

  17. Steve says:

    I’m definitely going off on a tangent here, but it’s a great chance to promote one of my favorite things in life – swimming in ice water after taking as much heat as you can stand in a hot sauna.
    Here in upper Michigan we do it all winter long; it’s one of the healthiest things our Finnish ancestors invented.
    I understand it’s very popular in Russia too.

  18. Danno says:

    I live on Lake Erie and usually take the plunge in the spring when the lake hits 50F.

    Unlike Wolf, the sun must be out, wind speed low and hopefully over 60F.

    As Wolf says, it does make you feel alive, alert and full of energy. It’s only when it starts to sting, does it make you want to consider getting out asap.

    A group of us also have a competition to see the last day of the year we will jump in the river for a dip..this year Oct 31.

    Keep enjoying Wolf!

  19. Double Bluff says:

    I like to float in Puget Sound on those rare cloudless, moonless nights. Only nose and eyes above water, body totally numb, just one consciousness among the myriad stars. Far out, dude.

  20. Dano says:

    Serious question here. Know of anyone who’s ever been but by a shark, or sea lion or similar? That alone might be enough to keep me out of the water.

    I did used to go rowing up in Seattle (hood to again) in all seasons. The dead of winter on Lake Union with all the city lights on is pretty magical from a single shell. And yeah, all I wore most of the time was a pair of nylon shorts, t-shirt & nylon vest. You can warm up pretty quickly in a shell.

    Moved back to the PNW last year. Picked up an open water wherry. Hoping the knees hood out. Can’t wait to get back out on the water.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      “Know of anyone who’s ever been but by a shark, or sea lion or similar?”

      Several people I know got bitten by a sea lion (similar to a dog bite). You’ve got to go to the emergency room and get the serum or else you can get horrific infections. One of them ran into serious trouble. The sea lion got an artery in the arm, and the swimmer bled profusely. Luckily, he was picked out of the water by a passing sail boat, which may have saved his life.

      I don’t know anyone who got bitten by a shark.

      • Mike G says:

        I met a former surfer years ago with a prosthetic arm from encountering a shark off Oahu.
        There have been two deaths in my area from shark attacks in the last couple of decades. Statistically rare, but fear isn’t about logic.

      • LeClerc says:

        Were they wearing wetsuits?

        I wonder how sea lions perceive wetsuits.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          The swimmers I know or heard about getting bitten weren’t wearing wetsuits. But there might have been others who wore wetsuits that got bitten. I assume that a wetsuit gives you some protection when you get bitten lightly.

      • Cocci7 says:

        Any tip on what to do or not to do when a sea lion gets too close, to reduce his interest in attacking a swimmer?

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Back off. They’re territorial, and mean, and you’re getting on their nerves. So back off. If you see them at a distance in front of you make a big arch around them and keep an eye out for them.

          Sometimes they go crazy (toxic algae bloom?) and bite swimmers no matter what you do. This can be an issue for days… maybe the same crazy sea lion biting swimmers, or maybe several. When this happens stay close to the beach so you can get out. Or maybe don’t swim (I’d try the latter for a few days and see what happens).

  21. Michael Testa says:

    There is a lot of scientific research on the benefits of cold water immersion including stimulation of human growth hormone. Some gyms even tout their icey plunge pools. I like the WSJ but I believe Wolf on this one.

  22. Bill Dinner says:

    One only has to take a look at Wm Hof’s practices to understand how wonderful ice water can be. Or spend a day and read James Nestor book “Breath”. I find some articles from the wsj interesting, but this was pile of xxx. Thanks for illuminating!


  23. rojogrande says:

    I never realized how fortunate I am to have so much natural neoprene. I did triathlons for about 10 years and always wore a wetsuit when it was allowed (which in CA was every time) for all the reasons cited in the article. Almost everyone wore them, which the organizers sometimes encouraged for safety reasons. Once I did a Tri in the Gulf of Mexico and the water temp was too high for wetsuits.

  24. John says:

    I wonder if the WSJ is reporting on the ramifications of excess deaths, or is this article just a distraction … ?

    • Tyson Bryan says:

      The WSJ employs a team of disinformation artists as staff journalists. They will help you along the way to the loss of all your money in the Wall St. casino. The article Wolf cites is really just an exercise the distortion of truth to the grossest possible degree. Flotsam is as flotsam does.

      • Bengt Løyer says:

        The purpose of mainstream media in general is to publish pure garbage 24/7 and turn your brain into mush.
        Misdirection and diversion of attention away from important affairs like the plundering of tax money is another motive.

  25. Karl says:

    The comments are wonderful, as is your article. (Look up “Ice Man Hof” on Amazon and Instagram.) Cheers, from nearby Silicon Valley!

  26. Sparx 832 says:

    I’m not a swimmer… but will often kick it on the concrete steps over there when I’m biking around. I’ll say ‘hello’ if our paths cross.


  27. John Moyer says:

    Small studies have shown that cold water immersion as a means to help with depression yields promising results. The NYT published an article about this last year. I know that when I am in cold water the mind and body becomes very focused on survival. I surmise that this singularity of purpose clears out obsessive, negative, thoughts and resets brain patterns.

    • Tobi says:

      Cold water exposure releases more dopamine than sex. It’s comparabe to cocaine. But cold water exposure leads to a much longer lasting elevated dopamine level. Cocaine and other, milder drugs or gambling or scrolling through a comment section leads to short dopamine spikes.

  28. 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

    Wolf – to purloin a pf lyric : “…Shine on, you crazy diamond!”.

    may we all find a better day.

  29. Phil says:

    About 6 years ago I did the swim there several times, and fun to swim over to the Balaclutha. Refreshing but I hated the tight wetsuit, and the neck chafe. I’ve also kayaked the middle of the bay, got dumped on the ebb, quite alone, but cowboy rescued twice and survived. The water temp never wasn’t a concern.

  30. Chicago Swim Guy says:

    Woke swimming now? I’ve been to both swim clubs and they are great! Visitors are welcome. I will say South End is a little more hardcore, but wolf is correct: the wetsuit needs to be taken off outside on the dock before going up because it’s a mess. And the only time I’ve worn the wetsuit is for the Escape Triathlon because it’s a race where there is no divisions for wetsuit vs non-wetsuit. However, there is for the South End annual Alcatraz swim invitational to make everyone comfortable. But to get the health benefits, cold water immersion therapy is not gona work in a wetsuit:) Damn, I miss that place! Robert McMillan sounds more comfortable swimming at North Beach Pool with the old broads who walk in the swim lanes.

    • Flashman says:

      I am reading and hearing more recently about cold water therapy as a method of resetting the immune system and healing effects on the body. Cold has never been my thing. The few times I jumped into cold water I couldn’t get out fast enough.

  31. Auld Kodjer says:

    Wolf – our waters aren’t as cold. Maybe 57F (14C) at their coldest in winter. But I always find it easier to enter cold ocean water by first warming up the body with a short 5 to 10 minute jog along the beach. It sounds a little counter-intuitive but it works.

    But if I ever encounter a seal I get out of the water. The big white fish that eat seals don’t have good eyesight. Another reason to never wear a dark wetsuit.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Yes, I need to be toasty too before I get in. My hands need to be warm too.

      A seal stuck its head out of the water a few feet away from me today, just looking at me, swimming in parallel. These are not harbor seals, they’re big. I mean, what am I going to do? This thing can swim something like 20 mph when it wants to. So I just leisurely veered away to express my polite disinterest in any further personal contact. And that was that.

      • VintageVNvet says:

        Grew up swimming in GOM, but only from May to Oct when water was 80 degrees or more; tried surfing in Santa Cruz one summer w/o wetsuit, but only lasted until mid Oct…
        Best critter experience was skin diving a beautiful coral reef in SWFL and seeing a fairly large hammerhead shark coming right at me and learned how to walk on water back to the sand!!!
        That coral and incredible profusion of colorful fish, etc., are gone completely now due to dumping of sewage and run off of chemicals into GOM; very sad.

        • Steve Letro says:

          Hi VintageVNvet I left Hamburg NY at 17 in 1971 to study at Miami Dade CC oceanographic technician diving program. The reefs were excellent. The waters off Key Biscayne were full of life. I worked at Foodfair on KB and enjoyed an epic year of freedom. Shared apartment for $50/month at 100 Sunrise drive KB. The draft board still has that address. That year in FLA was the start of working my way thru college to masters in Chemistry. Keep Smiling.

      • Steve says:

        That was a sea lion, Wolf, not a seal.

  32. Hillel says:

    Lol. The water has to be close to 80 degrees or above for me to swim in it.

  33. SocalJimObjects says:

    I swim in my wokesuit just to be on the safe side.

  34. Tony says:

    Nailed it. I’m a year round cold water water swimmer, too. This is what they mean by Fake News. Most of the news has some fake aspect to it.

  35. Happy1 says:

    I like the water in Hawaii, but I am a mountain person by nature, I’m terrified when far enough out in the ocean that I can’t see bottom.

  36. Helmut says:

    … getting time for a “Wolf-Street-Journal”!

  37. C. K. Cunningham says:

    YES!!! 😉
    I nearly succumbed to hypothermia several times in Hawaii. Twice while snorkeling on the Big Island. Once near the summit of Mauna Kea. I, like Wolf, have long had a BMI well into the super lean zone. Not enough body fat for floating or for insulation.

  38. C. K. Cunningham says:

    Your experience resonates with mine.

    My BMI is in the extreme lean range.

    I almost succumbed to hypothermia three times in Hawaii one Summer.

    Twice while snorkeling on the Big Island.

    Once near the summit of Mauna Kea.


  39. DawnsEarlyLight says:

    I read the WSJ article also, and was thinking you might respond!
    “A good swim is like a two week vacation.” Lordy Wolf, how about a good swim, and two weeks vacation (somewhere warm)!

  40. nightdipper says:

    Went for a swim in the North Atlantic a couple hundred miles north of the Azores in February. Never felt the cold water but the swells were huge. Tough swim, don’t recommend. The idea of wearing a wetsuit again makes me cringe. Had to wear one for hours when flying over cold water, day in day out. I was a search and rescue swimmer on an Aircraft Carrier.

  41. Rob says:

    Interesting, thanks for the Gell-Man amnesia reminder Wolf!

  42. Tom says:

    Wolf: swim on! If that floats your boat great.

    I hate cold water so for me swimming in the bay – wet suits or not – is something I would prefer to avoid, summer or winter. But as I like to say to purists of any kind: your way for you, my way for me 😀

  43. Wolfbay says:

    I often swim at an aquatic center in Florida. Even though it’s a heated out door pool (78) it still feels great after swimming a mile or so and even that is addictive. Might just try colder water.

  44. Minutes says:

    “Like a frightened turtle.” —-Seinfeld

  45. Seneca's Cliff says:

    You shouldn’t be surprised wolf. This sort of whining about shaming has become common in the media’s quest to tear down anything Tough, or Stoic or dare I say “manly” ( yes I realize women are some of the best cold water swimmers). Instead of celebrating the toughness and discipline it took to go to the moon, homestead the wilds of Montana or hit the beaches of Normandy we are supposed to be in awe of those who are sensitive or weak or easily upset and triggered. I am glad you are fighting back against such nonsense.

    • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

      Seneca – well said. It sounds like a complaint that there is no ‘participation trophy’ from someone who won’t be participating anyhow…

      may we all find a better day.

  46. Biker Chique 01 says:

    Only in San Francisco …. For swim events that cross the shipping lanes, such as the swims from Alcatraz back to the club, … the swim commissioner schedules them with the Coast Guard well in advance, and they shut down traffic in the shipping lane for the time of the event.
    It would be great to hear the radio traffic on days when large ships, container and tanker types, are loitering off shore until the lanes are reopened. I am thinking of forming a swim tourism company that will offer swim-vacations across the Suez Canal, Panama Canal. Hong Kong Harbor, Pearl River China, Malacca Straits, and few other scenic high maritime traffic sites. In the interest of having a little fun, this would be my feeble contribution to disrupting one small part of the supply chain.
    Imagine the FUN and disruption … all major high traffic maritime routes shut down simultaneously for a few days to allow handful of swimmers to swim across shipping channels, instead of parallel to the shore.

  47. Mora Aurora says:

    How can you not click on that title? A pleasant break from stats, charts…”and money.”
    Thank You Wolf!

    Although land locked and high in the mountains, I can relate, for at 27 degrees or above, I’m in my t-shirt shoveling (swimming in) snow. The only danger to avoid from critters are those frozen canine hockey pucks (and quickly before they melt).

  48. CreditGB says:

    Grew up swimming in Lake Huron from May to November. Never had a wet suit, or a “club” for that matter. Depending on wind direction, it can be fairly warm or it can be a chest crushing cold. In either case, if you can’t get used to it in a few minutes you just get out and dry off. Half an hour of shivering was common as kids.

    And yes, Wolf, in BOTH instances it is amazingly transformative, being one of life’s hidden joys.

    On the other hand, debate over wet suit, not wet suit, in today’s world seems to conjure up thoughts of Marie Antoinette. Oui?

  49. bulfinch says:

    I don’t know how you do it, Wolf. I try to plant a single foot in the water whenever I visit the Carmel coast thinking how much I want to connect with that gorgeous tide. Not fifteen seconds in and my entire body screams at me from every cell WHATINHELLISTHISTHEN!!!??!!

    It’s painful and it feels like death.

    Even if I plunged headfirst and swam like hell for the shore, I fear my body would be convulsing so bad from shivering that I’d bog down.

    Really impressive.

    Rispetto per l’uomo!

  50. Iona says:

    Think of how much pollution is in the water from such a dirty city like SF. That high is from hypothermia plus all the chemical pollutants that’s kickstarting any viruses you have, plus cancerous cells.

    And I say this as a surfer/swimmer of nearly 4 decades. You can ignore reality but not the consequences.

  51. Kevin W says:

    Wonder what the Venn-Diagram cross-section of the human race (1) reads the Wall Street Journal every day, (2) has a website where he can ruminate on what he reads in the Wall Street Journal every day, (3) has people actually read said site, and (4) is an active member of the San Francisco Polar Bear Club.

    Am i the only one who feels a little bit sorry for the WSJ reporter, who no doubt thought he could write about something this obscure and walk away unscathed? Looks like.

  52. Steve Letro says:

    Check out Wim Hoff.
    I wear wet suit in Hawaii scuba diving for 2 – one hour+ dives.
    I understand the freedom of no wet suit body surfing in MD no suit.
    Us water people have many interesting habits not understood by others.
    Thank you.

  53. DUKE says:

    Wim Hof thinks 50F is warm.

  54. Nina Karoline Østgaard says:

    Ha! Ha! Funny reading! Wetsuit or not .. I am glad we don’t have to cope with such HUGE challenges here in the winter cold Norway..😉😘

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Yes, I figured there are people who think that 50° F (10° C) is too warm for a human body to get into, due to the risk of getting heat-burn or something.

  55. Seen it all before, Bob says:

    Wolf, I am looking for you to star in the next “Escape From Alcatraz” film.

    Since I am sure prisoners were not issued wet suits, I am sure you could be the lead.

  56. Nemo300BLK says:

    As a WSJ subscriber, I read that article yesterday but didn’t know it was full of excrement. It doesn’t surprise with how far down the hill the WSJ and its Woke 280 “journalists” has gone in the last five years.

    Like with this wetsuit story, there are many articles the commenters in the comments section have taken the writers to task because its obvious they pick a narrative, then assemble a story around it.

  57. Freedomnowandhow says:

    There’s definitely a comparison to this and those who claim M.M.T. is a abhorrent economic term.

  58. MarkinSF says:

    “Wetsuit Shaming”
    Just another in a series of liberal left wing plots intended to undermine Democracy and the American way of life. And from San Francisco no less.
    It’s all going on right here under our noses folks. Until now. Kudos to the heroic work of the WSJ,

    • Seen it all before, Bob says:

      I remember back in the olden days when the WSJ only published business articles.

      Admittedly, I kind of enjoy the new WSJ/USA Today format.

      I pick the WSJ over the USA Today at every hotel I stay at.
      It is very handy. I crushed the cockroaches at La Guardia during my last visit with my copy of the WSJ

    • dpy says:

      It’s a lot like how we road bike cyclists scoff at E-bikes. However, wet suits allow less-proficient swimmers (triathletes in particular) to actually do open water, whereas they otherwise could not or would not.

  59. jon says:

    If you can swim without wetsuit or other paraphernalia, more power to you.
    I am a minimalist and my dream is to live frugally and minimally.
    I have few years to achieve this dream.

  60. dpy says:

    Before I wrecked my shoulder I loved open water swimming competition. I’ll never forget a spring swim here in Denver. I am lean but was trying to acclimate to cold for an upcoming race, so was pushing my time in the water. At maybe 30 minutes I began to feel sleepy and was tempted to stop and close my eyes. I took a sharp turn and sprinted for the nearest point of shore! I always wanted to do an Alcatraz swim.

  61. Braincramp says:

    Yup, and if you think this kind of “journalism” is limited to the Wall Street Journal, you are hopelessly naïve.

    We pick up the NYT and know it’s crap even as we read it, yet continue to cite it’s erudition and insight despite that knowledge.

    Google Michael Crichton’s “Gell-Mann Amnesia effect.”

  62. Clifton Poole says:

    Wolf, fun read. Comments icing on the cake.

  63. RickV says:

    William Ralston, another famous San Franciscan, who among other things started the Bank of California and financed the Comstock Lode, died on August 21, 1875 at the age of 51 while swimming in the Bay. He was known for riding to work in the Financial District from Belmont, Ca in a chariot pulled by a team of white stallions, sometimes racing the local commuter train. Be careful. We would hate to lose you.

  64. Steve says:

    This is hilarious. “Robert McMillan” does not wear a westuit–as far as I know he never has. He’s at the South End several days a week–I’m sure he’d be happy to chat with you in person so you can explain cold-water swimming to him.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Then why did he write this BS??? And the oil-tanker BS, LOL (or was he just lying to create clickbait content for the WSJ?).

      This is an issue. He published a lot of articles in the WSJ. Now I have to wonder: What is made up, and what is fact in these articles?

      If it was a satirical article, he should have published it in The Onion.

      My article wasn’t an email to Robert, but a debunk of a WSJ article about another crazy thing — “wetsuit shaming” — that it says the crazy San Franciscans are doing. So when you google wetsuit shaming, you get the WSJ article at the top, and right under it, you get my debunk. That’s what this was about.

      • Poblano Pete says:

        Lurking South Ender here. I can’t help but think something went awry in the editorial process and the job fell to Bob to manufacture some controversy. As Steve notes, Bob swims wetsuit-free regularly. And the folks quoted are a pretty friendly bunch.

        I’ve also never heard anything that amounts to “shaming”, despite the club having its share of tough customers…ribbing, sure. Most often it’s more about evangelizing the joys of swimming traditional style.

        I can’t speak to the “we’re here, we wear gear” showdown of 25 years ago, but certainly remember nothing like that in the 17 years I’ve been a member.

        Our professor friend, and the eminences in the comments section, don’t seem aware of the acclimation process. My first winter swim was to the second buoy and back. Go figure.

        One point of correction – with the exception of the annual all-club triathlon and the Friday night relays, none of these SERC swims was a race, and most club swims I’ve participated in or volunteered for included a couple of wetsuited swimmers. There might be exceptions made for certain longer swims requiring a qualifier. It’s pretty common for club swims to include the disclaimer that it’s not a race, and if you really want to know your time, use a sports watch.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Most of our swims are a “race” with official places and a #1, #2, #3, etc., and a little ceremony afterwards, with lots of clapping as the rankings are read out.

  65. The Bob who cried Wolf says:

    We’d go clamming in the surf in San Diego in the winter. It wasn’t 50 degrees but was really cold. Before we’d start we’d drink some antifreeze and could stay in for 45 minutes before having to go warm up. Antifreeze ingredients: good tequila (not the get drunk fast high school Cuervo crap).
    Kudos to you for doing the cold water swim. That’s pretty hardcore.

  66. Steve says:

    Also, regarding your claim that the water temp is now a consistent 52-53, a number of people recorded sub-50 temperatures in the bay this past weekend.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      NOAA North Point Pier 41 reading, close to where we swim. Scroll down to the 5th chart, which shows the temperature: recent range between 51.5 – 53. There haven’t been sub-50 degrees in weeks.

      Robert got that part correct!


      In terms of anecdotal: I swam both days this past weekend, and the water was nice, felt about 52/53-ish. I don’t go into the sauna afterwards, I’m the idiot that’s out on the dock after the swim warming up through exercise, and when the water is 49 degrees, I have a much harder time warming up than when it’s 52, I guarantee you that. But don’t take my word for it, look at the NOAA temperature readings at Pier 41 (yes, click on the link, scroll down to 5th chart).

      • Steve says:

        I know about the NOAA stations. I was out in the middle of the bay last weekend where multiple thermometers, including the boat’s, took readings of under 50.

  67. SK says:

    One of the finest pleasures I treasure from back in the 80’s in SF was working in a small building on Samsome street where we had an open air hot water shower on the roof of the 3 story building. A few of us used to go for lunch time jogs down to Embarcadero and run to Aquatic park, jump in and swim around for ten minutes and then run back, shower on the roof, and be super invigorated for the afternoon.

    • drifterprof says:

      A systematic review of 104 studies, by researchers from UiT The Arctic University of Norway and from the University Hospital of North Norway, found strong evidence that cold-water swims and therapies based on them offer significant physical and mental health benefits.

      For the review, Mercer’s team conducted a detailed search of scientific literature on the issue, excluding studies where participants wore wet suits, experienced accidental cold-water immersion and water temperatures greater than 68 degrees.

      Among their findings:
      * Some studies showed solid evidence that cold-water swimmers often experience significant improvements in overall cardiovascular health.

      * Cold-water immersion triggers a “shock response” that stresses the cardiovascular system and elevates the heart rate – a chief goal of high-intensity heart-healthy exercise.

      * Ice baths and other hydrotherapies can reduce cholesterol, boost the immune system, help treat autoimmune inflammation, ease pain and speed recovery from sports injuries.

      * Cold-water swimming boosts the body’s stores of so-called “brown adipose tissue” (BAT), a type of “good” body fat activated by low temperatures. BAT burns calories to maintain body heat, which can lead to weight loss, unlike “bad” white fat which stores energy and hikes obesity risks.

      * Exposure to cold water or air boosts BAT’s production of adiponectin, a protein that helps protect against insulin resistance, diabetes and other diseases.

      * Cold-water immersions greatly increase insulin sensitivity and decrease insulin concentrations. This is true for both inexperienced and experienced swimmers.

      * Winter-weather swimmers typically describe feeling “joyful” in the water, suggesting the practice has “a positive effect on mental health and brain development.”

      The researchers note the participants in the 104 studies varied widely. They ranged from elite swimmers and regular winter bathers to those with no previous winter swimming experience.

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