Vancouver’s Polar Bear Swim Turns 100! Plus 4 Other Places to Polar Bear Swim in Metro Vancouver

Vancouver Polar Bear Swim

Vancouver Polar Bear Swim. Photo credit: Sherwood411 on Flickr

If you’ve never jumped into the ocean on New Year’s Day before, next year might be the time to start. Vancouver’s legendary Polar Bear Swim celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2020! Plus, there are four other Vancouver-area Polar Bear Swims happening on New Year’s Day.

In cities all across Canada, courageous swimmers ring in the New Year with a chilly swim in an ocean or lake on January 1st. At 100-years-old, Vancouver’s annual New Year’s Day swim is one of the oldest Polar Bear Swims in the world and the oldest in Canada. In 1920 Vancouver local Peter Pantages convinced several friends to swim in English Bay with him to ring in the New Year, and a tradition was born. 

Since its humble beginnings with just 10 swimmers, the event has grown to include thousands. So far the record is 2,550 registered swimmers in 2014, but with 2020 being the 100th anniversary, perhaps the record will be broken.

The swim happens on January 1st at English Bay. There’s a festival from noon to 4 pm with live music and food trucks. The actual swim is at 2:30 pm. You can just go for a quick dip or participate in a 100-yard race. Register online if you want to participate. It’s not required, but many swimmers dress up in fun costumes to add to the festive atmosphere.

Vancouver Polar Bear Swim

Photo credit: City of Vancouver

If you can’t make it to the Vancouver Polar Bear Swim, there are several other New Year’s Day swims happening elsewhere in Metro Vancouver. 


Deep Cove Penguin Plunge, North Vancouver

North Vancouver’s Deep Cove doesn’t have a Polar Bear Swim. Instead, they host an equally chilly Penguin Plunge. Silly outfits are encouraged with prizes for the best costumes. There will be live music and food too. The entire event is a fundraiser in support of Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue Station 2. Register online.

Deep Cove Penguin Plunge

Deep Cove Penguin Plunge. Photo credit: Deep Cove Kayak


Port Moody Penguin Plunge

Across Burrard Inlet from Deep Cove, Port Moody also hosts a Penguin Plunge on New Year’s Day. Head to Rocky Point Park at 11:30 am to register. Bring your friends since there are costume prizes for the best group costume as well as the best individual costume.


Delta Polar Bear Swim, Tsawwassen

Delta’s 40th Annual Polar Bear Swim takes place at Centennial Beach in Tsawwassen. The event starts at 10:30 am with swimmers diving into the ocean around noon. There are prizes for fun categories like the oldest swimmer and the swimmer who lives the farthest away.


White Rock Polar Bear Swim

It’s a milestone year for White Rock’s Polar Bear Swim too. They are celebrating 50 years of freezing cold water. Unfortunately, their event was cancelled in 2019 after winter storms damaged the iconic White Rock pier. But it has been repaired and the swim will go ahead this year. Registration starts in the morning and swimmers hit the surf around noon. 


Polar Bear Swim in Vancouver's English Bay

Polar Bear Swim at English Bay. Photo: Ted McGrath on the Inside Vancouver Flickr group.

Polar Bear Swim Tips

It’s cold out there! Keep these tips in mind to have a safe and fun swim:

  • Bring warm clothes and keep them on until it’s time to swim. 
  • Wear a costume. It’s more fun that way.
  • Don’t forget your camera! Use a waterproof case to protect it.
  • Consider wearing water shoes or sandals. The beaches can be rocky.
  • Spend just a few minutes in the water. Your body cools down 25 times faster in water than it does in air.
  • Pack a towel, warm clothes, and a toque to put on afterward to help you warm up.


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