Seas the day

By Francesca Emms
Photography by Sanne van ginkel

Featured in Capital #58

This is part of Capital’s 10 year birthday retrospective, where we look back at some of our favourite stories over the past decade. To read an update of this story, see issue #90 of Capital.

Subscribe to get the real thing here.

It started with two. Dougal and Mark. Just a couple of mates swimming in the harbour. Every single morning. All year round.

Without wetsuits.

Dougal Dunlop, a swimming coach at Freyberg pool, says the coldest they’ve swum in was 8.2 degrees. The group has grown by word of mouth, and now there’ll often be up to 15 “Washing Machines” churning up the water by 7.00am at Oriental Bay. It includes family members and friends, Freyberg café staff, people Dougal taught to swim in the past and parents of kids who are learning to swim with Dougal now.

The group is a real mix of people and the ages range from 16 to “undisclosed.” Anyone can join them. You just have to be a confident swimmer, and not worried about the cold. Wetsuits are an option. Dougal says most of the group will put them on once the water gets below 13 degrees. If you’re interested, then now’s the time to get started with the water temperature already getting a bit nippy. Newbies are added to the WhatsApp group and Dougal swims beside them for their first swim.

Andrea, who’s been part of the group for about a year, was picked up in the water. She’d been swimming by herself but one day met a couple of Washing Machines at the first yellow buoy. They asked if she wanted to join them. “I swam out to the second buoy that day – the furthest I’d ever swum in the ocean,” she says. Now she’s a regular, swimming six mornings a week all year round. Something she doesn’t think she’d have been able to do without a group. “It’s absolutely freezing in the middle of winter – around 9 degrees. But we rev each other up. It’s not competitive. It just helps to focus on how fun and crazy it is, rather than the cold.” Andrea says it’s not just a swimming group, it’s a social club. “Dougal has created such a friendly, inclusive and non-judgmental culture within the group; he’s awesome.”  


Sign up to our newsletter