Brrrr …. 2016 Polar Bear Swim Returns to Vancouver, Jan 1

Photo credit: City of Vancouver | Flickr

Photo credit: City of Vancouver | Flickr

Ready to join 2,500 other hardy swimmers this New Year’s Day for a dip to remember?

Vancouver’s 96th annual Polar Bear Swim will take place Jan. 1 at English Bay. Water temperatures are expected to be, well, on the chilly side – but that shouldn’t stop the crowds from ringing in the New Year in style.

The event is free to participate in, but you do have to register at English Bay between 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. on the day of the swim. If you’re in the giving mood, donations are encouraged and go to help the Greater Vancouver Food Bank.

At 2:30 p.m. sharp, a flag and siren signal the assembled swimmers to race into the frosty waters. If past years are any indication, many will be dressed in festive costumes, from Santa Suits to mermaid getups and more.  

Photo credit: Gary | Flickr

Photo credit: Gary | Flickr

Most participants splash around for a few spine-tingling seconds (just long enough to reverse the effects of that New Year’s Eve hangover) before rushing back onto dry land. But hardcore types can also participate in the annual Peter Pantages Memorial, a 100-yard swim race. Afterward, there’s coffee and hot chocolate on the beach to help you warm up.

All participants are reminded that swimming in extremely cold water in the middle of winter does come with a risk of hypothermia (no surprise there). Body heat is lost 25 times faster in water than air, according to the City of Vancouver Polar Bear Swim page, and staying in the water longer than 15 minutes is not advised. It’s also worth noting that drinking alcohol will not warm you up – in fact, it increases the risk of hypothermia.

Photo credit: City of Vancouver | Flickr

Photo credit: City of Vancouver | Flickr

Wondering how Vancouver’s crazy Polar Bear Swim tradition got its start? Legend has it that the first official swim took place back on Jan. 1, 1920, with just 10 swimmers – all presumably decked out in vintage flapper-style swimwear. The stunt was the brainchild of local resident Peter Pantages, a Greek immigrant to the city and the nephew of a vaudeville theatre legend. Pantages reportedly swam in English Bay three times a day, every day, so he was definitely up for the challenge.

Photo credit: Kyle Pearce | Flickr

Photo credit: Kyle Pearce | Flickr

In the near century that has passed since, ever larger crowds have gathered on the sands of English Bay to emulate Pantage’s example. The largest crowd was recorded in 2014, when 2,550 participants signed up to take the plunge. More information and swim tips are available on the Polar Bear Swim website.

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