Iceland is famous for its spectacular natural beauty and unusual geological events. It gave us the word “geyser” and recently halted European air travel due to a volcanic eruption, after all. Now that Icelanders have figured out how to tap into their geothermal energy, they occasionally mess with nature–and to excellent effect here at Nauthólsvík Beach (“beef hill bay”?), which hosted IGLA’s open water competition under the bright sun at 9:00 p.m. on Friday night.
Those following along know that my training focused on hot pots and the 400 IM. The third and final area of concentration was this event, a 250-meter swim in water that was supposed to be in the 40s. I’ve swum longer distances in that temperature out at Brighton Beach, so I knew that the trick was going to be getting in quickly rather than squealing and pausing with each step. Janet, Kathleen, and I practiced our speedy entries out at the beach this spring, and when it turned out that the North Atlantic water at Nauthólsvík was about 10 degrees F warmer than expected we were actually a bit disappointed.
Disappointment quickly turned to enjoyment as we were able to relax in the deep green water and enjoy the sights clearly visible along the bottom. My favorites were the pudgy starfish and large green plants that looked like ship propellers. The race went off in groups of just five, and the three of us were in the first wave together with two other women whom we’d met repeatedly in the green room prior to the distance events, so we didn’t have to worry about dodging other swimmers. It was practically a reunion at this point, and like everything else it was a ton of fun, enhanced by the same disco soundtrack we’d had at the Blue Lagoon.
Best of all, a hot trough awaited on the beach (seen at right in a photo from my return visit). It was huge and wonderfully warm and proved conducive to accomplishing my main diplomatic mission. My friend and teammate Richard, who was not able to join us in Iceland, appointed me as his Swedish ambassador to make contact with the Danes and enlist their help in planning a swim between Denmark and Sweden next summer. I ended up next to a few of the Copenhagen Mermates in the hot trough and easily conducted my business. Hot pots really do make the world go ’round in Iceland!
There’s a second hot pot closer to the water, and it is designed to be nearly submerged during high tide, so that its water spills out and warms up the seawater that is nearly enclosed with manmade seawalls. (The open water competition was not in this enclosed area but rather on the other side of the jetty.) Add some imported sand and a full-service bath house and you have an awesome beach experience. It opened in 2000, and the Icelanders have quickly become experts at beach culture.
Janet swam a little extra during the event, as she had accidentally set her sights on a buoy farther afield than the course marker. Even that was not enough for her, though, so she went back in after the conclusion of the swim waves for a dip with some locals from the Sea Swimming Association. I watched from the end of the jetty and saw a loooong seal swim by them!
The beach was so lovely that I returned solo on my last day in Iceland. Lucky for me, the same locals were there, and I was able to join them for a swim to the other side of the bay. They told me that they’ve tried polo and synchro in the sea, and I told them about our shoreside synchro routines at the beach in Brooklyn. We are kindred spirits, for sure. They also said that in the winter, the water gets so cold that they have to break through ice in order to take their dips! We don’t have it quite so rough at Brighton Beach, but then again we don’t have a hot trough.
Said trough again proved helpful for my secondary diplomatic mission. John had asked me to try to get the pattern for knitting his own bathing suit, as we saw in an Iceland tourism video by the Movie Star (watch for this at 8:50). Sure enough, one of my fellow swimmers and soakers is the e-mail checker for the Sea Swimming Association, and she said that if I send an e-mail through their website she will track down the pattern.
All I ever want to do after a chilly swim is take a nap. Usually I have to go home for that, because it’s too cold to hang out at the beach on Brighton after being in the freezing water. Here, the hot trough had warmed me up perfectly, so I chose a wind-sheltered encampment alongside the jetty and stretched out for a nice snooze. When I awoke, the tide had come in and was just a few inches from my feet. That was my signal to get up and find one last pool.