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The backs of five people on a beach as they walk toward the bay to swim, from left: a man in black swim trunks and no top, a man with black swim trunks and a long-sleeved black shirt, a woman in a one-piece black bathing suit and short sandy blonde hair, a woman in a black one-piece bathing suit and a tatoo in the middle of her back, her dark hair in a bun, and a woman in long brown hair, wearing a two-piece bathing suit, white on top and orange on the bottom.

Bay dipping in Alameda: ‘It can feel really good to get into the water, especially cold water.’

on October 14, 2023

Early on a Saturday morning, Polly Conway picks up coffee and drives to Crown Beach in Alameda. She sets up a tent in the sand and waits under gloomy skies until the rest of the group shows up, and the monthly meeting of the East Bay Dipping Society is underway.

Dipping is as simple as getting in the water for a few minutes, sometimes with chatting involved, and always followed by coffee and snacks. Conway started open water swimming during the pandemic and found it helped her manage anxiety and depression. She’s stuck with it ever since.

A closeup of a woman's smiling face. She has short sandy blonde hair and is standing with the bay behind her.
Polly Conway started East Bay Dipping Society (Julian Wray)

“The hard science on it is still a little iffy,” Conway said. “But I think it’s undeniable that it can feel really good to get into the water, especially cold water.”

Her group meets monthly, regardless of the season or temperature of the water. Many of the group’s members return to the cold water because they feel it brings health benefits. But they also come to find community.

First-timer Rebecca Trissell found the group on Facebook and after an August dip, said she’d probably come back monthly. Her biggest fear was that the water would be too cold, but she quickly found that it wasn’t so bad.

Video by Hallie Applebaum

“I really believe in the benefits of cold water. It helps inflamation and circulation, so I take cold showers,” she said. “So then I was like, why not just dip, and then meet some cool people in the meantime.”

While the activity still appeals to a relatively niche audience, cold water dipping has seen a rise in popularity across the globe. In their pursuit of exhilaration, many also believe the hobby to be good for the body. On her website, author and physician Amy Myers cites studies that suggest these chilly plunges improve immune health, promote restful sleep, increase blood circulation and decrease inflammation.

But, as Conway noted, there is little research backing up the health benefits. In a blog post last year, Cedars-Sinai cautioned, “You may or may not want to withstand the discomfort of a chilly dunk for uncertain rewards.”

A man in a long-sleeved black shirt is chest high in the bay with his goggles on top of his head. In the blurry background are four other swimmers.
Zeb West enjoys a Saturday morning dip in the bay. (Julian Wray)

East Bay Dipping Society members say they’ve experienced the benefits, which go beyond the physical to the social. The club is building a community and welcomes dippers of all experience levels.

Out in the water, they chat and float around, saying hello to a couple of passing paddle-boarders. They’re on the shore 15 minutes later, drying off and laughing about the cold.

“I feel like there is something about being in the bay, seeing the birds overhead,” said Dunya Nuaim. “Sometimes the temperature is different, sometimes the waves are different. I feel super happy and nourished.”

The next dip is at 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, at Grand Street and Shore Line Drive in Alameda.

(Top photo by Panashe Matemba-Mutasa)

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