Photos: Polar Bear Swim

Were you brave enough to take the plunge this year? Maybe these pics from last winter will inspire you for 2019.

There is an unspoken agreement around town that you’re not truly a Vancouverite until you’ve dunked your full body—and yes, your head as well—in the icy waters of English Bay on New Year’s Day. From polar virgins to cold-as-ice pros, more than 1,500 people officially registered to participate in last year’s festivities, and as chants of “We are cold, we are numb, we are really, really dumb” grew louder among the crowd, we were there to capture every freezing frame.

“It’s my first time, but it’s his fourth,” says Pritisha Kumar (left). “It’s a weird thing to do, but we came down just to refresh before the new year kicks in.”

“My first Polar Bear Swim started as a drunken bet 35 years ago, and I haven’t missed a year since,” says Terry Saik. “And yes, I won the bet. This year does feel like a particularly cold one, though, and I should know!”

“I’ve worn this same outfit since 1985,” explains Jim Baxter.“ But my daughter, Rebecca, has only been coming with me for the past four years. One year, I stayed in the water for 45 minutes, which was tough, but it’s the wind when you stand up that really gets you—that’s when it gets bad.”

Tom Hollett has been a lifeguard in Vancouver for more than 50 years, so he’s seen more than a few Polar Bear Swims in his day. “It can be quite dangerous, because with so many people running in one spot, you have to be careful no one gets stampeded in the shallow water,” says Hollett. “Sometimes people’s bodies even seize up and we have to send the boat out to get them.”

“This is my 27th year doing the swim,” laughs Paul Gallant (centre). “My tip is to get a little mooshed the night before—it takes the edge off.”

“I built this Dalek costume from over a hundred recycled coffee bags,” explains Dave Dicarlo. “Why? Because it’s fun to have a little fun.”

Miriam Soet was the only female member of the Polar Bear Veterans Club present at last year’s swim, and she’s earned her spot, with 20 badges to her name. “I know now to bring warm clothes to change into straight after you get out of the water,” shares Soet. “That’s key to stopping the shivering.”

The founder of the Polar Bear Veterans Club (you need more than 20 official badges to join the gang), Brent Hammond (centre, dressed in blue)has come prepared with a changing tent and a cake for those adorned with enough silverware to meet the requirements. “I lived in Victoria for eight years and still caught the ferry over every year to make the swim,” says Hammond. “During the big Y2K scare I stayed up until 2 a.m. backing up my servers and still managed to catch the morning ferry over in time for the dip.”