Best New Year’s Hangover Remedy? Vancouver Polar Bear Swim: Jan 1, 2013

Photo credit: wanderunghike | Flickr

The extended forecast in Vancouver for Jan. 1, 2013, calls for strong thunderstorms and a high of 5 degrees Celsius.

Perfect weather for a swim.

For the last 92 years, the Vancouver Polar Bear Club has marked New Year’s Day with a frosty dip in the city’s English Bay.  This year will be no exception.  Thousands of hardy swimmers – many of them fresh from New Year’s Eve parties – are expected to gather on English Bay Beach on the afternoon of Jan. 1 to take the plunge.

The tradition started back in 1920 when local legend Peter Pantages led 10 swimmers into the icy water as part of the inaugural Polar Bear Swim.  That number has grown steadily over the last century, with a record 2,246 registered swimmers turning out for the 2011 Polar Bear Swim (The actual number of total swimmers each year is estimated to be as high as 10,000).

As veteran Polar Bears know, the annual dip is as much a party as it is a test of wills.  Many participants come dressed in outlandish costumes – from man-eating sharks to Santa Claus, Batman and prison chain gangs.  Just as many have quite obviously been up partying all night – Rumour has it there’s no hangover remedy quite like an icy dip in English Bay.

Photo credit: wanderunghike | Flickr

At precisely 2:30 p.m., a siren sounds and the assembled masses race toward the misty grey waters.  The hardiest of the bunch face off in a 100-yard swim race – churning their way out to a lifeguard buoy situated in the bay.

If this all sounds like your idea of a good time, be at English Bay Bathhouse between 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 1 to sign up.  Registration is free, though participants are encouraged to make a donation of food or cash to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank.  The Vancouver Park Board has posted a list of tips for prospective swimmers on its website.  A few facts to bear in mind:

  • Alcohol accelerates hypothermia – so don’t drink before you swim.
  • Don’t stay in the water more than 15 minutes.  The body loses heat 25 times faster in water than in air.
  • Stay warm by keeping your clothes on until swim time.  Afterward, warm up with a coffee or hot chocolate.

Has anyone taken the Polar Bear Plunge in Vancouver before?  Would you do it again? Let us know below.

Want more updates on Vancouver and beyond? Follow me on Twitter @RemyScalza.  

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