Helga Isager. Knitwear designer.
My first time was in an ice-covered lake somewhere in northern Finland. I was on a business trip, and one of my colleagues is a passionate winter bather. Rather recklessly, I suggested I’d go with her on a weekend trip to one of the many Finnish lakes, and something made me insist, even though she clearly thought it was a bit strange, that traditional Finnish winter bathing was my preferred tourist activity when we could have gone shopping or to a museum.
The air was clear and crisp and the lake was covered with a thick layer of ice and surrounded by majestic pine trees. Small, ramshackle, wooden sheds were scattered around it, half covered in snow, like some giant from the woods had by chance dropped them on his way to the water. As it turned out, they were saunas and, as we approached this idyllic, fantasy-like scenery, staggering in knee-high snow, another surprising sight greeted me: A group of middle-aged men, stark naked except for their coloured, knitted hats, in front of a barbecue grilling sausages, cracking jokes and having a great time. At first, I found it hilarious and perhaps the obvious lack of shyness also made me a bit uncomfortable. However, I quickly learned to appreciate this special Finnish tradition of socialising in the nude.
A few metres from the shore, there was a hole in the ice and, after a few moments of hesitation, I entered. The cold was, of course, shocking. However, that soon turned into an indescribable high, which I imagine must be similar to the experience of taking drugs. It’s impossible to be depressed, or even just a bit low, when you get out of the water after only a few minutes. The blood is rushing, endorphins are set free, and the overall sensation in your mind and body is an all-consuming explosion of happiness. Afterwards, I found myself sitting on a bench wearing my bathing suit in minus 10 degrees Celsius, giggling like a schoolgirl, just waiting for my next dip. That day, I went back and forth between the sauna and the hole in the ice three times – and suddenly my colleague didn’t think my going to the lake was all that crazy after all.
Since my Finnish experience, I have bathed all year round, including during winter. I live with my family in a typical city apartment in central Copenhagen, so I bike to the harbour, get in for a quick dip, and bike home as fast as I can, which gives an effect somewhat similar to when you go to the sauna to get warmed up. Also, I spend three months a year in the small town of Tversted in Northern Jutland, where I grew up and where my company has its headquarters. Here, my winter-bathing is taken to another level. I have always loved and felt closely connected to this area – the great, open landscape of endless sand dunes, stretches of heathland and, of course, the brutal beauty of the sea itself. It is as if my mind clears and my batteries get charged when I am there; unconfined and free and close to nature. When I’ve not been to Tversted for a while, I start to get this almost physical longing to go for a walk along the coast – and, of course, to take a dip. Summer or winter; in rain, snow or sun.
Photographs taken by Mikkel Tjellesen