More than 720,000 people in Finland (population 5.5 million) winter swim on a regular basis, according to recent statistics from the Outdoor Association of Finland. Once the domain of older adults, winter swimming is now appealing to a wider range of age groups looking for a natural way to boost mental and physical well-being. In response to the spike in popularity in recent years, the City of Helsinki recently announced the opening of five new winter swimming spots in the Finnish capital alone.
One of Finland’s best-known winter swimmers is Elina Mäkinen, 29, the first Finn to swim an ice mile (1.6 kilometers) in the water below five degrees Celsius, is internationally known for her super-popular TikTok videos that attract millions of followers worldwide.
Mäkinen is the subject of a new documentary “Kylmä” (Into the Cold) directed by Lauri Danska and produced by Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle and ARTE France. A journey into the world of winter, the short film charts Mäkinen’s journey to successfully swimming the ice mile. To date, Into the Cold has been broadcast in Finland, Germany, France, Spain, and Italy.
The multiple World Cup and Finnish Championship ice swimming medallist fell in love with cold water as a child after her grandfather introduced her to the practice, which then quickly became a regular habit.
Now, on a good day, Mäkinen goes for a dip twice daily, and through her TikTok videos encourages others to tap into sisu, that unique Finnish form of courage and resilience, and feel the power of the cold.
“Cold water is the key to everything. The ice hole where I swim is a holy place for me, as it allows me to maintain my well-being and get rid of stress through this mindful practice that energizes my mind and body,” says Mäkinen.
In many of her winter swimming videos, Mäkinen carves her own swimming hole into the ice of a frozen lake or the sea (called "avanto" in Finnish) before going for a dip.
When asked to share her favorite winter swimming spots, Mäkinen says, “I have so many in Finland, as we have so much water everywhere that it’s hard to choose just a few! The best place for a winter swim is the spot you make yourself by cutting a hole in the ice in the middle of beautiful Finnish nature. I always have my swimsuit with me, so if there’s an opportunity to go for a dip, I do.”