Lake Michigan can dazzle, delight and even terrify, but during summer it acts as backdrop to the city’s most spectacular displays of Summertime Chi. The undulating expanse of one of the world’s largest lakes laps at the concrete borders of the city inviting us to dip our toes, but so few of us ever venture in. Friday Morning Swim Club is here to change that.
Their third season kicked off last month, with over 1,000 people plunging into 60-degree water on opening day. The concept is simple: “A free, weekly meet-up for people who appreciate slow mornings and Chicago’s unique landscape.”
I heard about FMSC from some younger friends. Being in my mid-thirties, the list of things my twenty-something buddies suggest that I actually want to do is getting smaller, but this one hit the sweet spot. I love the water and have spent many triathlons fighting Lake Michigan’s swells. Surprisingly, I’d never done a joy jump.
Funny story: my personal experience mostly sucked (not the lake or swim club’s fault), but I’m excited to recommend this to everyone I know. So here’s how to dive in with the Friday Morning Swim Club.
Where and whens
Head to Montrose Harbor at 7 a.m. on Fridays from now until September 29. (That’s 13 more opportunities this season.) Fair-weather fans, take note: Water temperature typically peaks in August. Track it online to find your sweet spot.
Morning announcements come at 7:05 a.m., then a jump-in countdown comes a few minutes later. After that, it’s a go-at-your-own-pace scene. Jump, float, swim, repeat. There are emergency ladders about every 100 feet to help you exit the water. Festivities wrap up some time after 8 a.m.
The club’s Instagram is an information hub — and a place to RSVP, though it’s not required — and their website answers logistical FAQs.
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Why take the leap?
- A post-workout cool down. That’s how the club actually started.
- The #lakelife boost to your camera roll. The setting could not be more idyllic: Early morning sun sparkles over the water to your left, and the waking skyline comes alive to your right; hard bodies adorned in their fittest kits and a variety of inflatables create a rainbow cacophony of visual interest. Co-founder Andrew Glatt is a professional photographer and generates all of their stunning visuals. Memorialize your day in the water with one of his handsome prints.
- Free coffee. Co-founder Nicole Novotny is the owner of Printer’s Row Coffee and doles out top roasts for a post-dip drip. Bring your cleverest mug to compete in the weekly Best Mug competition.
- Your health. Cold plunge benefits are espoused daily, so instead of stuffing your bathtub with ice, try it au naturale.
- Community. The crowd is a nice slice of Chicago. You’ll see all types floating shoulder to shoulder.
- Dog watching. So many pooches.
- The story. I won’t soon forget mine.
Risks to mitigate
Be honest with yourself about your swimming abilities! There are no lifeguards, and the water is deep, probably 10-15 feet. Lake water is cold, and if you’re not paying attention, you could flirt with hypothermia, especially if you get caught in a long line for the ladder exit. Plan your time and support items well.
I’d highly recommend using a flotation device to keep your body from being totally submerged. Plus, floaty culture is pretty big at FMSC — noodles, innertubes and all manner of sparkling animal floats abound. Pro move: stand-up paddle boards are great for groups, and you can use them to exit anywhere along the sea wall.
I took the plunge Week 4. According to the FMSC recap, 2,000 swimmers attended this Pride-themed jump. I was riding solo and thus very concerned with safety. Convinced that leaving my phone and car key on dry land would encourage someone to steal them, and knowing a theft would strand me, I secured them both in a neon green waterproof bag that I hung around my neck. That bag now belongs to the sea.
Due to my setbacks, I experienced no post-jump serotonin boost, nor did I kick off my weekend in a positive way, but if FMSC’s goal is to deliver community and life-affirming moments, I got that. Shout out to Andrew and Nicole Bertolozzi for diving into the chilly water and staging an earnest search-and-rescue attempt, and Pedro Guerrero, who went out of his way to help me work through my material losses.
FMSC claims to be a supportive, welcoming organization, and I found out firsthand it’s not lip service. I had to ask for help a dozen times, and strangers stepped up without hesitation to each request.
This is a fun, unique experience, and once you’ve tried it, it feels sort of nuts you haven’t jumped in the lake like this before. So check it out — just be sure to leave your stuff on the steps.
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