Swimmers jumping off of montrose harbor's pier into Lake Michigan
Friday Morning Swim Club Credit: Andrew Glatt

Early risers who wanted to greet the lake had a place to gather on Friday mornings this summer and fall. Friday Morning Swim Club, a group meetup for early morning swimmers, was created by five friends last summer and has become very popular over the past year. What started as a small gathering surpassed anything creator Andrew Glatt and his friends expected. In fact, he never thought people would find it in the first place.

“We didn’t expect it to get so big,” said Glatt.  

The idea started after Glatt, a professional photographer, started training for a triathlon, biking along the lake to build up endurance. He’d end every workout with a jump into the lake. Several friends started joining him at the lake at the end of his exercise routines, and a year later, Friday Morning Swim Club was born. 

“Part of my training was long bike rides every Friday morning along the lake and then after, five or six of my friends and I would jump in,” Glatt told me. “I looked forward to the lake jump [after my workout] every week.” 

An underwater shot of a Swim Club participant. Credit: Andrew Glatt

The event grew over time from a small group to over 200 people weekly, mostly through word of mouth. Some swimmers may have also found the club because of Glatt’s high-definition photographs and drone videos, which he shares on social media. Well-composed shots of swimmers having fun with the crisp and blue Lake Michigan in the background surely attracted new people. 

“I think the two things that grew the event were photos and word of mouth,” said Glatt. “If not genuine connections, Instagram photos definitely helped.”

The official events began in June 2021, growing from something Glatt did with his friends into something for the public. Waking the boldest among us, Friday Morning Swim Club draws a crowd willing to plunge themselves into the cold depths of Lake Michigan at 7 AM. If you’re open to adventure and early mornings, the group promises a community of like-minded individuals looking to bond over exercise, Chicago culture, and ice-cold water. Plus, the event promises all the coffee you can ever imagine.

“At the very first jump in June, there were only a few of us, and I thought that the only way this would get better would be with coffee,” said Nicole Novotny, a friend of Glatt’s and owner of Printer’s Row Coffee Co. in Chicago. “Quite a few logistics went into it when hundreds of people started showing up at the lake.” 

Novotny provides coffee for tired swimmers looking for a pick-me-up. Waking up as early as 2:30 AM to brew coffee for the event, Novotny is dedicated to the cause. What started off as sharing a 36-ounce Yeti between five or ten people quickly grew to multiple coffee carriers filled to the brim for anyone who brings a coffee mug. Not only does Novotny constantly promise caffeine for coffee lovers, she also inadvertently provided the idea for Friday Morning Swim Club. Asking friends to commit to a Thursday Night Swim Club, Glatt decided to rival his friend’s idea with his own 7 AM event.

More information on future Friday Morning Swim Club events can be found at Andrew Glatt’s website, andrewglattphotography.com.

“A couple of friends and I decided to commit to jumping into the lake every Thursday night this summer starting back in June, Andrew included,” said Novotny. “I was all for creating a similar thing but with the potential for community surrounding it.” 

“When she formed Thursday Night Swim Club I thought it would be really funny to steal her idea and do the same thing with the same exact logo,” says Glatt. “She made a T-shirt and everything and we just crossed out the logo and rebranded it. It’s a long-running inside joke now.”

Glatt captures some images with drone photography. Credit: Andrew Glatt

Coffee is only one reason people show up in droves. Many people bring dogs to the event seeing as they enjoy the waters, too. The possibility of petting a few puppies is actively promoted on Friday Morning Swim Club’s website under the FAQ section. Glatt hopes one day, dogs will outnumber people in attendance. Lucky for Friday Swim goers, some of the dogs wear life jackets.

“One of the funniest parts of Friday Morning Swim Club were these three specific dogs that came every week,” said Glatt. “It’s probably a 30-foot drop for swimmers, so when the big drop came the dogs lost their minds running up and down the pier trying to save everyone.”

A few swimmers enjoying coffee while treading water. Credit: Andrew Glatt

Friday Morning Swim Club has provided a community for those looking to find friends in the pandemic. With the event taking place outdoors, the possibility of catching COVID is low with social distancing possible at the pier. For anyone worried about their safety, Glatt said that the club has people standing ashore, prepared to help anyone that needs assistance making it back on land. Having only a few ladders scattered about Montrose Harbor, it’s important to take precautions assuring swimmers’ safety.  

“We definitely grab close friends who are fit and capable when the water gets cold,” said Glatt. “We post up every 20 feet helping people out of the water because there aren’t many ladders out there.”

Laken Browning, a Chicago resident who’s an avid Friday Morning Swim Club participant, admits the event has been a great space to both make friends and bring her own. In fact, her love is half the reason Glatt has seen an increase in participation. Her TikTok about the event has reached an audience of almost 40,000 people. “The TikTok video blew up in September and now, here we are,” Glatt said.

Laken Browning’s TikTok posted in September 2021 has garnered over 430,000 views thus far.

“It’s really wild, the power of social media,” says Browning. “I’ve gone five or so times [to Swim Club] and every time I run into random acquaintances or friends I hadn’t seen since high school.”

Though October 1 marked the end of the 2021 season, Glatt looks towards April as a potential start date for next year. Of course, if people are looking to show up through the colder months, Glatt will always be there. If you’re interested in joining in for a polar plunge this winter, the best place for more information regarding colder morning swims would be Glatt’s Instagram

“My personal goal is to do it through the winter,” says Glatt. “We’ve started and stopped it seasonally for safety, but I’m curious to see if people will still show up.”

For the 400 or so people that show up regularly, Friday Morning Swim Club has provided a consistent staple to their schedule. To wake up at 6 AM every week and go swimming before work can be a feat. For those who are willing to subject themselves to the cold winds and waters of Lake Michigan, it can be a rewarding experience as well. With many people losing community amidst the pandemic, the Friday Morning Swim Club has provided more than just coffee, dogs, and swimming over the course of four months. It’s provided memories, friendships, and a home to those searching for one.

“It’s just a group of like-minded people who are crazy enough to want to jump in the lake at 7 AM,” said Browning.

A follow-up TikTok from Browning to answer a few questions about Swim Club has also racked up the views.