In the cold, dark months of winter in Denmark more than 25,000 people, spread across 93 clubs, find an icy release by plunging themselves even deeper into the crisp climate. Winter bathing is a trend that has seen a revival in recent years, with more and more young people seeking out the endorphin rush.
We speak to Marie Louise "Malou" Wedel Bruun, the Editor of ELLE, Denmark, who is a regular winter bather, to find out why sub-zero is the new hero.
While it has often been said that Danes have salt in their veins, embedded by over 7,000 kilometres of coastline, Malou admits that her relationship with the ocean hasn't always been so strong — despite having grown up in a place that is defined by its maritime industry.
"I am from Helsingør, so I was born and raised with the sea, like everyone in Denmark is," she says. "We have the ferries to Sweden, so the sea is part of our identity. I've always loved it, but my mother was afraid of it, and can't swim, so we weren't much by the beach."
But from an early age, Malou enjoyed ending her showers with ice cold water — a practice that continued after trips to the public pool, when she eventually started swimming at university.
"We have these ice baths that you can dip into and people can sit there about 20 seconds or something," she says, "but I could be there for minutes — forever! It stimulated me, and I loved it!" she says.
While her interest was clear, and she had already heard of winter bathing, Malou says that time and the logistics of making it happen seemed to deem it a bit out of her reach — until her 40th birthday arrived, and a friend invited her to a local bathing club.
"She told me: 'I've got a membership to this winter bathing club. There's a sauna and there's a dressing room, and you're coming with me.' So, I said yes!"
Set up along the coasts of Denmark, and even in the centre of Copenhagen, Danish bathing clubs range in size and facilities, with all offering saunas and easy access to nearby almost-frozen water, for those who are brave enough to jump in.
"The first time I went, it was the 29th of December, 2014, and there were icicles on the steps, it was perfect," Malou says. "I got high in an instant and I was just 'wow, this is amazing'. I got this rush of energy, and it was like my life had started all over again."
But it was not just the endorphin rush that attracted Malou, it was also the chance to be lost in conversation with her friend, to explore life and its fine details in a way that modern life rarely affords you.
"We have these fantastic conversations," she says. "My friend has become my diary, in a way, and it is so great to have someone to just open up to about stuff you're not really sure of, but you need to say, in a kind of confessional way."
"As modern persons, we don't really have spaces to do these kinds of things anymore. But we have found it, with the bathing, with this cold rush as the ignition," Malou concludes.
"I think that being in contact with nature this way is also very important to me
as a person because I had everything else — I had the right job, I had the right husband, I had the children, I had everything," she admits. "But I lacked this contact with my body because everything I was doing had to do with my mind — planning and thinking and doing stuff for others, being a step ahead in everything."
"Suddenly, in the water, I just felt my body. I was just being there at that exact moment, I was being present," Malou says. "It was fantastic. And it still is. It has become a drug to me, to be present."
"It's like a fifth element. It is pure coldness, pure energy. For me, it isn't really about swimming … it's more about this rush."