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Ice Swimmers Brace Themselves for The Thaw

Published: April 4, 2006 (Issue # 1158)


The thaw began this week in St. Petersburg and the city seems ready to melt and disappear.

But for walruses, the name given to those people who like nothing better than to swim in holes cut into the frozen River Neva, rain and rising temperatures signal that the ice-swimming season is winding down.

April traditionally marks the end of ice-swimming fun. The frozen river flows again and soon after, beaches become crowded with fair-weather bathers.

Some walruses turn to cold showers, ice filled baths or punishing fitness regimes for consolation, but there is still time to catch them swimming or even to test the water oneself before the end of the season.

During the Epiphany celebrations in January, when temperatures plummeted to less than minus 30 degrees Celsius, nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky declared on television that This is why Americans cant understand what a Russian is! before plunging into a pool cut into the ice at Lake Bezdonnoye near Moscow.

Indeed, the idea of swimming outside in such extreme conditions is alien to foreigners of many nationalities. There is, however, method in the madness.

On a corner of the Peter and Paul Fortress, a sketch of a walrus marks the spot where enthusiasts meet to swim all year round in the River Neva.

Andrei Korotkov is one such swimmer. He is quick to reject the term walruses morzhi in Russian which is often used to describe winter swimmers, as it encourages an image of exclusivity.

This is not a club. We are all individuals and everyone is welcome here, Korotkov said as bystanders nodded in approval.

It is of no importance whether you are a Christian, a Jew or a Muslim it is just a question of the strength of your soul, Korotkov said as he gestured to the Sobornaya-Kafedralnaya Mechet, St. Petersburgs biggest mosque, nearby. Anyone can swim in the Neva as long as they are strong spirited.

The pastime is a great leveler and contrary to Zhirinovskys remark, Korotkov said it is certainly not exclusive to Russians.

Scots, Finns, Germans and Englishmen all swim here, he said.

When someone is half-naked at the edge of icy cold water their profession, religion and nationality seemingly become irrelevant.

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Times Talk

ALL ABOUT TOWN

Monday, Apr. 21


Improve your grasp of Neruda, Bolano and Marquez at TrueDAs Beginners Spanish Lesson this evening at their location on the Petrograd Side. An experienced teacher will be on hand to help all attendees better understand the intricacies of the language and improve their accent.


Tuesday, Apr. 22


SPIBAs Breakfast with the Director event series continues as the association welcomes Andrei Barannikov, general director of SPN Communications, to the Anna Pavlova Hall of the Angleterre Hotel this morning at 9 a.m. Attendees must confirm their participation by Apr. 21.


The AmCham Environment, Health and Safety Committee Meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. this morning in the their St. Petersburg office.