Tony’s Winter Swim Challenge

Tony Barrett talks to Chatter

Tony has completed the Chatter Challenge every year since it started in 2021. He asked Chatter for an ‘Ironman’ type challenge to test him during the 2022/23 season. Hence The Ultimate was devised at his request! The Ultimate is a 365 day open water swim challenge and he isn’t the only member of the Tribe doing it!

Read about his open water swimming journey… but before you do – BBC One 21/11/22 ‘We are England – Cold Swim’ is being repeated nationally (I don’t think it will be North East and Cumbria but you can get it on iPlayer) and you will see one or two of us. So…. back to Tony!

Early childhood

Speaking to Tony, he says that his earliest memory of the sea was swimming at East Sands in St Andrew’s on a family holiday, aged five. His family of six stayed in a dull green, four berth caravan that smelled of gas and cigarette smoke. The siblings would spend most of their time outside in the fresher smelling air.

Every morning, they would open the caravan door and look to the heavens, rubbing their eyes in disbelief when they couldn’t see any clouds in the sky or feel the damp, dreich rain swirl around them. He says that being from Glasgow, they were unused to such a long spell of dry and warm weather.

Joyous memories

Each bright new day saw the four children basking in the hot sunshine at the beach and running in and out of the sea like “wee, blue skinned, seal pups”.

It was Tony’s first experience of the cooling effects of the North Sea. By the end of the holiday, he says that he had learned to swim and simply couldn’t get enough of being in the sea that whole week.

Tony said, “The joyous memories of splashing around stayed with me. Thankfully, the enjoyment still remains today. Occasionally, when I feel childlike energy to run into the sea, the memories of all those years ago come flooding back. I become that wee, innocent boy, running and diving headlong into the first decent swell. I know that
holiday to St Andrews is where my addiction started.”

Health Benefits of Cold Water


Mental Health Benefits

Tony continues, “Like many others who have experienced episodes of the black dog I am ever vigilant and curious about why I feel the way that I do and I pay close attention to my own emotional weather.

“As a student of cold water immersion therapy, I am keenly aware of the scientific benefits. The shock
and gasp of the first minute triggers the release of epinephrine and norepinephrine. Both of these
are essential for focus.

“Once I have been in for a few minutes I really feel the surge in dopamine. I am a bit of a dopamine addict and unlike other dopamine activities, the great thing about cold water immersion is that there is no downside. There is no depletion after the spike which lasts
around four to five hours for me.

“The old maxim that for every up there has to be a down doesn’t apply to cold water immersion. Dopamine is much more than just a shot of pleasure though. It is the neurotransmitter that provides drive and motivation. Since swimming regularly in the sea I have become much more goal focused and productive. The overall improvement in my mental health is significant.”

Physical Health Benefits

Tony confirms that he gets vital physical benefits too.

He went onto explain, “I have an auto-immune condition called Psoriatic Arthritis. Although sea swimming hasn’t cured it, it helps me live a generally pain free existence alongside my medication. I am sure that the improved circulation and the boost to my immune system has led to a significant reduction in inflammation. I also get a good shiver on afterwards in the re-warm phase, which helps me maintain a decent healthy weight!

Resilience and Confidence

“I believe the most significant benefit for me, is the resilience that it builds and the confidence that it provides to deal with challenges. When faced with something daunting now, I ask myself whether it is harder than running across frosty sand at low tide? Is it harder than the icy sleet stabbing my bare skin, whilst the windchill temperature sits at minus ten, to launch myself into the frozen sea?

“The answer is generally no, so I find myself much more willing to push myself further than I would have previously.”

Tony Bennett

Daily Swimming

Tony adds that he is a daily swimmer now and has been for most of 2022. He reveals, “When I started swimming regularly, around two and a half years ago, I swam on my own on almost every occasion. I have an unhealthy
tendency to isolate myself within my own self-imposed bunkers so I knew that it was beneficial for me to get out and about.”

“The Chatter Challenge introduced me to other like minded people. I knew that to live a fuller and funnier life, I needed to connect more again. Subsequently I have had the pleasure of meeting many new and interesting people in the North Sea!’

Tony Bennett 2022

How did you get into the Chatter Challenge?

Tony revealed that in 2020, he got into the Wim Hof Method to try to boost his immune system. This coincided with him taking his health and fitness much more seriously. Having adapted pretty well to the daily cold showers, he
started to swim more regularly. He joined a number of open swimming Facebook groups and the algorithm brought The Chatter Challenge into his feed.

He states, “clearly, there are some good things that flow from Social Media. As I was challenging myself in other ways through fitness, running and weight training, I thought this was the perfect vehicle for me to get much more serious about open swimming.”

Couldn’t agree more Tony.

The reasons why Tony tends to swim in the morning.

1) Early morning is his favourite time.

2) It sets him up for the day and provides him with the boost to his energy. This helps him face whatever the day has in store him.

3) Although he loves the colder water in the winter more, he says that nothing beats a 5am sunrise swim at Cambois. This is in the company of a few birds flying overhead and the thoughts of what lies beneath!

He adds that unless it’s a moonlit and starry sky, he says that he doesn’t enjoy the darker mornings so much but does it anyway.

He laughs, “I eagerly await the 21st of December every year knowing that the light is going to change to provide us with more daylight.”


Chatter Community

He confirms, “The most important aspect of the Chatter Challenge for me is that it is a community; well, more than that really. It is a group of slightly tilted, like-minded people who don’t follow the orthodoxy of comfortable living.

Friendly and Welcoming

“I found Jacqui and the rest of the Chatter Tribe I met to be really friendly and welcoming. Their encouragement helped to foster a sense of belonging and I felt, unusually, that I kind of fitted in.

First and second year of The Chatter Challenge

“The first year of the Challenge, I was fully committed and swam for 153 consecutive days. I had never felt better, or stronger mentally and physically in my life.

“The second year saw me backslide despite knowing the tremendous benefits and I only hit something like 58 logged dips. This was a combination of swims in the sea and ice baths. I was still having cold showers every day but that did not register in my head as part of the Challenge.

Award Ceremony

“To be honest, I felt a bit of a cheat to myself, I felt that I had copped out and taken the easy option. When I attended the awards ceremony at Crusoe’s, I could see the joy in the faces of the people who had truly embraced the Challenge as I had the previous year. I felt happy for them but didn’t feel good about myself and vowed that I wouldn’t let that happen again.”

The Ultimate

Tony stated “My mindset of seeking fresh challenges led to me reflecting that I didn’t want to just repeat the first year but wanted to take on something bigger, an even greater act of endurance.”

Resolve, resilience and discipline

“I thought the Challenge to swim every day for a full year would really test my resolve, resilience, discipline and my levels of commitment to achieving a demanding goal. I didn’t want any escape clauses. The exception would be where it was impossible due to conditions and would risk my personal safety or the safety of others. I approached Jacqui and was delighted when she was receptive to the idea.

“I hope to continue to thrive physically and mentally. I have lost a couple of friends in the last year so try not to take life for granted. Swimming in the vast sea helps give me a sense of perspective on my own blessed insignificance. I also have lots of gratitude for living in a part of the world that I have ready access to our amazing coastline and beaches.

Tony Barrett

Supportive Family

I had to use all of my sales skills to get my wife, Colette involved. To her surprise and to my
astonishment, she actually really enjoyed it. I was very proud of her pushing out of her comfort
zone as she believe that she couldn’t tread water. As a result, she had a real fear of finding herself in deep water.

Love of the sea

“Both of my daughters have given it a go with varying success. My eldest, Carmel tried it once, and I thought that she was going to be a regular. However, not long after and nothing to do with being in the sea, she discovered that she was expecting and hasn’t been back since! Her baby, Ameliè turns one next week so I’m hoping that she will return but probably not until summertime now.

“My youngest daughter, Cathlin has accompanied me on many occasions and loves it. Her husband,
Christian, soon got roped in and he is now one of our ‘Iceguys’ Tyneside Leaders.”

Tell us about The Ice Guys?

“I worked in Sunderland for many years. After seeing a couple of former colleagues get involved
in the dips down at Roker, I started following the ‘Iceguys’ page on Instagram. At the end of 2021, Chris,
the founder, asked if anyone fancied leading another group elsewhere.

“I thought it would be good to have a bit more company on my swims, so volunteered to lead it. I lead it alongside
Darren and my son in law Christian. We regularly have double figures on our Sunday morning ‘Nee Lasses’ sessions, 8am at Longsands, Tynemouth. Our numbers are steadily increasing with many regulars and lots of new people giving it a try.

“We have a similar amount for our Iceguys Tyneside Plus swim on a Friday at 6:30pm where lasses and even bairns are allowed. With the regular involvement of a number of the Chatter Challenge Tribe and others, it continues to grow. It’s a great way to end the week and start the weekend. I particularly like my well deserved fish and chips afterwards from Longsands Fish Kitchen which has become a weekly ritual. Many of us also enjoy a chat over coffee at Crusoe’s after both swims.”

Give it a go

“If anyone has a slight inkling that they fancy trying a dip in the North Sea then take the opportunity to do so.

“I have never known anyone to be disappointed afterwards. You will be freezing yes, but without regrets, having tested yourself in the cold water.

“There is no better way to get started than getting involved in the Chatter Challenge!”

Chosen Charity

“I am raising money for the mental health charity, Tyneside and Northumberland Mind. I hope to raise a penny or two via Facebook. If anyone would like to sponsor Tony, then please click the link.

‘I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Chatter Challenge to anyone who wants to keep swimming or dipping through the winter.

Tony Bennet

Still time to sign up

Extra merchandise was ordered so there is no problem in signing up for the 2022/23 Challenge. The dip log and Chatter Tribe keep you focussed and motivated.

Furthermore, you will be supported throughout whichever option you choose via the Facebook page with daily dipdates for you to comment or add your photos. Follow us on Instagram too.

If you haven’t already, join the Chatter Challenge today.

We look forward to you joining us this winter!

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