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Sunrise swims help young ‘oddballs’ make friends away from social media

Sunrise swim

What began as two friends going for an early-morning ocean swim has exploded into a rite-of-passage for hundreds of young people craving human connection away from social media.

Key points:

  • Cold Nips attracts hundreds of sunrise swimmers every week
  • The event is forging real-life connections between young people
  • The Perth-based crew plan to take their new not-for-profit national

Every Wednesday morning, hundreds of people gather on the shore of an otherwise deserted Perth beach just before the sun peaks above the horizon.

The bleary-eyed group huddles together chatting excitedly before they sprint across the sand in unison and plunge into the icy cold water.

It may seem insignificant, but for the enthusiastic members of the Cold Nips crew, their weekly sunrise swims are hugely meaningful.

“I feel like I’ve finally found my tribe,” said Amie Thompson, who felt isolated from her friend group after moving to Perth from Sydney.

She said the appeal was more than just the morning swim.

“A big thing about it is the discomfort of getting up early and getting into the cold water,” Ms Thompson said.

“But then [it’s really about] the comfort of community.

“A lot of people come by themselves and a lot of people come in twos or threes … but it’s all about meeting new people.

“We always hug, everyone hugs to say hello.

“I have made my best friends through Cold Nips.”

Cold dips are bonding sessions

Cold Nips is the unlikely brainchild of friends Jian Wong Yen and Ryan Linton.

“I just hit him up one day and asked to go for a sunrise swim … and we did it and we felt amazing afterwards,” Mr Linton said.

The pair then created the cheekily named Instagram page asking people to join them next time they swam.

Sixteen people turned up to that first group meet and in a matter of weeks they were drawing crowds of between 150 to 200 people.

Mr Wong Yen said they then realised they had something special on their hands.

“Ryan and I always joke — we like to think that there’s a group of oddballs, people that took a different path, or they’re stepping outside of their normal friendship groups they grew up with,” he said.

“This is a place that they can connect and be themselves … and that’s really beautiful.”

Mr Wong Yen said he believed young people felt pressured to only socialise in a party environment.

“Cold Nips is a space outside of perhaps other toxic environments — like alcohol and drinking that people normally socialise in — where they can connect in a raw form,” he said.

“I think that’s really lacking among young people today.”

Swimming the social ‘icebreaker’

The swimming aspect of the meet up is brief — the group then migrate to a nearby cafe.

“Everyone rocks up and they’re very tired and they’re not very social … and then you get in the water it’s like the icebreaker,” Mr Wong Yen said.

“You feel alive, you feel adrenelised and then it’s the actual connection that happens when you have coffee.

“You get to spend time with people.”

Many of the crew’s regulars were not from Perth and saw it as an opportunity to form new friendships.

Luke A J moved to Perth from Singapore and was among the first to respond to the initial Instagram callout.

“It’s been such a delight, I think you meet so many people with different stories as well from different walks of life that you wouldn’t [otherwise] meet,” he said.

“It’s just so nice to just be in nature, disconnecting from technology, being in community, connecting with people, it’s been such a blessing to so many lives.”

Expansion to Melbourne up next

Cold Nips has now been registered as a not-for-profit organisation and was looking at expanding to other Australian cities, with Melbourne the first target.

“We just actually set up a board, basically it just means that moving forward,” Mr Linton said.

“We want to be like Movember, something like that.”

“We change locations every week, the idea behind that was it brings people from different communities, to the one place.”

Mr Linton said he believed they were on to a winning formula.

“Running and jumping into the water gives you no other option but to be completely present with yourself,” he said.

“Doing something uncomfortable, you get a bit of a dopamine hit — you get a feel good feeling afterwards.

“I think when people experience that it sets them up for their day … and then they want to come back and do it more.”

Image by Igor Link from Pixabay

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