Taking the plunge: Hardy Hong Kong swimmers brave busy harbor

HONG KONG, Nov 1 (Reuters) - For nearly 30 years, Sandy Lam has been rising early each day for a dip in the sometimes choppy waters off the western edge of Hong Kong island, next to one of the world's busiest ports.

Lam, 68, is part of a tightly-knit community of around 50 mostly elderly citizens who are regular visitors to Sai Wan Swimming Shed, tucked away off a steep hill, providing basic changing rooms and showers.

"We're all friends and we've known each other for a long time," he said. "We pay HK$150 ($19) per month which pays for the water and light in the shed, and for the changing rooms to be kept well."

The shed, built in the 1960s or 1970s, is the sole survivor of such structures, popular in the first half of the last century when public swimming facilities were sparse in the former British colony, and is now a hit with tourists and newlyweds.

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Hong Kong swimmers brave busy harbor
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Hong Kong swimmers brave busy harbor

Miao Rong Lu, 68, swims in the sea at the Sai Wan Swimming Shed in Hong Kong, China, October 5, 2018. Rong Lu said she has been coming to the swimming shed for 30 years.

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A man prepares to swim in the sea at the Sai Wan Swimming Shed in Hong Kong, China, October 4, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

Lockers are seen in the men's changing room at the Sai Wan Swimming Shed in Hong Kong, China, October 4, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A swimmer enters the sea before dawn at the Sai Wan Swimming Shed in Hong Kong, China, October 7, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

Yin Sing, 83, showers in the men's changing room at the Sai Wan Swimming Shed in Hong Kong, China, October 5, 2018. "I've been coming here for 40 years, every single day," he said. "I walk up the hill to come here, even on a Sunday." 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A man exercises at the Sai Wan Swimming Shed in Hong Kong, China, October 7, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A woman prepares to swim at the Sai Wan Swimming Shed in Hong Kong, China, October 7, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

Lin Sik Oi, 75, walks along the wooden pier to swim at the Sai Wan Swimming Shed in Hong Kong, China, October 5, 2018. Sik Oi said she has been coming to the swimming shed for 30 years. "I swim here to keep fit. We come here for exercise every day, all year round," she said. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A man prepares to swim at the Sai Wan Swimming Shed in Hong Kong, China, October 7, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A woman swims as a plastic bottle floats in the sea at the Sai Wan Swimming Shed in Hong Kong, China, October 7, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

People prepare to swim at the Sai Wan Swimming Shed in Hong Kong, China, October 5, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

Dennis Yeung, 58, climbs out of the sea at the Sai Wan Swimming Shed in Hong Kong, China, October 7, 2018. "I feel there is more plastic in the sea," said Yeung. "I have noticed a difference since I've been swimming here from when I was small... There is quite a big difference. In the future, it will be more of a problem too." 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

Swimmers play cards in the communal room at the Sai Wan Swimming Shed in Hong Kong, China, October 5, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A man prepares to swim at dawn at the Sai Wan Swimming Shed in Hong Kong, China, October 7, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

Yim Sui Hing, 86, swims in the sea before dawn at the Sai Wan Swimming Shed in Hong Kong, China, October 7, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

Yin Sing, 83, looks out to sea from the Sai Wan Swimming Shed in Hong Kong, China, October 4, 2018.

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

Clothes hang next to a collage of photographs of swimmers on the wall in the communal room at the Sai Wan Swimming Shed in Hong Kong, China, October 4, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

Chin Choi, 78, swims in the sea at the Sai Wan Swimming Shed in Hong Kong, China, October 4, 2018. Choi said she has been coming to the swimming shed for 36 years. "I come here every day at 7 o'clock in the morning. My daughter suggested I came here to swim because it would improve my breathing," she said.

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A man exercises at the Sai Wan Swimming Shed in Hong Kong, China, October 5, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

Tim Man Kwok, 72, lights incense next to a statue of the Chinese God of Land at the Sai Wan Swimming Shed in Hong Kong, China, October 4, 2018. Man Kwok said he has been coming to the swimming shed for 28 years. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

Women prepare to swim in the sea at the Sai Wan Swimming Shed in Hong Kong, China, October 4, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

A man exercises before swimming at the Sai Wan Swimming Shed in Hong Kong, China, October 4, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

Old photographs of swimmers are seen on the wall of the communal room at the Sai Wan Swimming Shed in Hong Kong, China, October 4, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

Sandy Lam, 68, hangs a towel to dry in the mens changing room at the Sai Wan Swimming Shed in Hong Kong, China, October 4, 2018. Lam said he has been coming to the swimming shed for 28 years. "We're all friends and we've known each other for a long time," he said. "We pay HK$150 ($19) per month which pays for the water and light in the shed, and for the changing rooms to be kept well." 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

Miao Rong Lu, 68, swims in the sea at the Sai Wan Swimming Shed in Hong Kong, China, October 5, 2018. Rong Lu said she has been coming to the swimming shed for 30 years. 

(REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

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The residents, many of who have been swimming there for decades, plunge into the waters from steps reached by a spindly wooden bridge propped up on the rocks, just a stone's throw from the heart of the financial center against a busy backdrop of container ships, ferries and fishing boats.

"I've been coming here for 40 years, every single day," said 83-year-old Yin Sing. "I walk up the hill to come here, even on a Sunday."

Most of the swimmers say the exercise keeps them healthy, although they have noticed changes in water quality over the decades.

"I feel there is more plastic in the sea," said Dennis Yeung, 58. "I have noticed a difference since I've been swimming here from when I was small... There is quite a big difference. In the future, it will be more of a problem too."

(Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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