Swimming in Greenland doesn’t feature high on many people’s wish list. But there are exceptions. For starters, there are those slightly mad people who love to take a dip in the ocean, snow or shine, winter or summer. From time to time you’ll find them down at the colonial harbour in Nuuk, injecting a little adrenalin into their lives with a quick swim in the sub-zero water. I can see the appeal for tourists. Many will only visit Greenland once, so why not maximise the unique experiences? When visiting us in Nuuk, my brother literally leapt at the opportunity to take a ‘swim’ from our boat in the fjord. He loved it, despite already losing the feeling in his fingers by the time he climbed aboard again. Intrigued by this apparently exhilarating experience, my nine-year old son also decided to try. After standing hesitantly, hand-in-hand with my brother, terrified, his toes gripping stern, they counted to three and leapt into the water. The moment my son re-emerged, his face an image of abject horror, he leapt almost as quickly back onto the boat. His first words as he climbed aboard were a strangled “Help me!”
I’ve never tried it myself, at least not in the sea. But I’ve swum in some of Greenland’s lakes. On a calm day, if there’s no wind, and if the sun is shining, a swim in a shallow lake can be bliss, particularly if you don’t move very much, thus retaining the thin layer of warmer water that your body generates immediately against your skin. The downside is that, on the still, warm days when swimming is so splendid, you are likely to be met by a swarm of mosquitoes as you emerge from the water.
For those who prefer actual swimming, rather than a near-death or pleasure-pain experience, there is a wonderful alternative in Nuuk. Nuuk has one of the most beautiful swimming pools in the world. And if you think about it, where else are Greenlanders going to learn to swim? Greenland is a fishing nation. There are more boats than cars, by a big margin. But until the swimming pool was built in 2003, there was nowhere to learn to swim.
Now Greenlanders can learn in an undeniably spectacular setting. Under the wave-shaped roof is a twenty five metre pool, a warm basin, a spa, and saunas. But the most fabulous feature is the huge wall of windows looking out onto the ocean and mountain backdrop, the snow lit by the distant city lights in the winter, or the orange sunlight reflected in the glittering water in the summer.
There are other crazier things that people do in Greenland, that might result in unintended swimming activities. One that I have witnessed, if only via Facebook videos, is the dubious practise of driving ones snowmobile as fast as possible at, and then onto, the ocean. The aim is to drive fast enough so that one more-or-less flies across the water like a hovercraft, and reaches shore again before the snowmobile sinks. Apparently this is also a popular pastime in other Arctic communities. Why not? The results are usually incredible, one way or another.
But one activity I have not seen in Greenland is surfing, which is not surprising as there is no surf. But I was once told by an aquaintance that he had overheard a conversation between two men in Nuuk. One was telling the other that he had a surfboard he’d brought all the way to Greenland from Australia. This aquaintance thought it was a hilarious story, even more so when I told him that the man he had overheard was my husband.