As Australia basks in the warmth of the high summer sun, swimmers filling baked beaches and escaping parched suburbia, a very different kind of swimming is in mid-flow across the globe.
Tomorrow, the Lake Bled Winter Swimming Championships in Slovenia, is a key fixture on the winter, cold-water swimming circuit.
After entering the race in January 2010, Mary Gould, then 27, became the second fastest female breast-stroke winter swimmer in the world. Out of a field of precisely eight, made up of British-born Gould and an "intimidating" five Russians and two Finns, that is.
Cold water swims clock in at less than 15degC, while ice swimming starts around 5degC and runs to as cold is it is possible to endure - and it takes something of a dislodged, if immensely headstrong, attitude to leap into the foolhardy sport.
"My cousin persuaded me," said Gould, who now lives in NYC. "It was summer in England, we were by the sea and it seemed like a good idea at the time".
In the build up to the race, she trained by taking short, sharp dips in Hampstead Ladies' pond in London - a lonely, and bitterly unappetising place to swim in the deep mid-winter.
At first, it was a matter of getting through just 3m - the water was 2dC.
Lake Bled, while utterly beautiful, its framing mountains blanketed in deep snow, was perishing. Hovering at around 1dC, the water was far warmer than the surrounding air temperature, which hangs at around -5dC in February.
She's from swimming pedigree, though, her cousin Margarita Peddler raced in the Sydney Olympics, a keenness for swimming running throughout her family.
"The quicker you swim, the quicker you get out," her cousin told her as she readied herself to peel off layers of thermals, waiting for the first of three horns, the signal for swimmers to undress. A second horn sounds to enter the water and a third is the start signal.
24 "invigorating" seconds later and Gould had clinched silver in the unlikely, though convivial, competition.
"It's the weirdest feeling ever. You go numb from the neck down - I couldn't feel my body for an hour after the swim" she recalls. The Swedish contingent, old hands at the numbness and immense rush from the vicious dunking, had built a sauna next to the Bled lanes.
Gould's dip into winter swimming is something of a minnow when sat alongside the blue-whale scaled exploits of Lynne Cox, the most celebrated - and feistily, brilliantly authoritative - female winter swimmer on the planet.
"I'm not one for saying jump into the ice and swim - it's so dangerous. It's constantly changing, the ocean has no safety mechanisms," says Cox from her home in southern California.
It took the American 16 years to prepare for her swim of the Bering Strait, in 4deg C water. From there, Cox, now 56, worked towards her most incomprehensible feat to date - a quarter of a mile through the -3degC sea off Greenland.
From 1971 to 2007, she has swum in colder and colder waters, extending her submerged time as part of a series of ongoing experiments, aiding medical research in Europe and North America.
A purist, Cox never wears a wet suit for her swims, pooh-poohing them as a test of technology rather than a test of strength.
Much of her preparation is mental, with Cox ever-aware of the "brain freeze" effect of perilously cold waters.
"It's so serious swimming in the ocean but the cold adds the dimension of numbing the brain - you're not thinking clearly." She has suffered nerve damage that affected her ability to detect cold temperatures.
In 2007, she took on the challenge of swimming a mile stretch of the Antarctic, in 0degC. The 1.22 nautical mile stretch look 25 minutes and 10 seconds to complete, a feat that rolled out under the watch of three doctors, three zodiacs, a ship and with two years of preparation behind the challenge, including ten days of acclimatisation in 4degC Ushuaian waters.
"It was like travelling to Mars or going to the moon. How do you articulate how cold it is? It's a world of immense cold, the water is thick, almost like slush." Flecked with ice crystals, the Antarctic waters were a sensory paradox – soupy viscosity combined with extraordinary, "breath-taking" clarity.
"The pain becomes numb, your arms and legs lose so much sensation that you can't tell if you're pulling the water. You're numb all over."
She remembers seeing penguins fly beneath her as she slowly arched her arms through the viscous water.
"They were cheering us on. They dived into the water and swam underneath me. 'This is the home side crowd!' I thought."
It's a far cry from Maroubra or Watego's – not that Cox would eschew Aussie beaches.
"I love to swim. But I also love these open water cold swims because it's exploration. It's like this whole fascination for being able to explore and then being able to articulate what you see."
HOW TO SURVIVE AN ICE SWIM
- For those preparing for the harsh climes of Lake Bled, Cox is steadfast about putting safety first, recommending to rigorously acclimatise before hitting the frigid water.
- In the days before the race, loading up on calories as an instant energy resource makes sense - though piling on the pounds may not be wise. "Extra body fat helps to a certain extent, but it gets to the point where you're dragging that weight" she said.
- After the race, keep exercising to keep the blood flowing and stay warm. The decision to walk for 20 minutes or so after her Greenland swim, was, she says, an a-ha! moment.
- Take a lukewarm shower - never a hot one - to help warm up.
- 80 per cent of heat is lost through the head, so always swim with the head out of the water.