My toes might still be frozen by the time you read this.
I took the plunge into the 7 C water in English Bay for Vancouver’s 93rd annual New Year’s Day polar bear swim alongside 2,233 registered swimmers dressed in antlers, spandex, orange hazmat suits, bikinis and at least one man-thong.
About 20,000 spectators watched the motley crowd of swimmers (with questionable judgment) jump in for the largest polar bear dip in the B.C. and one of the largest in the world, according to Vancouver park board aquatic supervisor Sean Healy.
There was no time for second-guessing when the crowd in the fenced corral charged the ocean at 2:30 p.m.
Heart racing, I sprinted into the water alongside costumed folks young and old, a chorus of shrieks, laughter and expletives filling the air.
It might have felt balmy compared to the 3 C air temperature, but I wasn’t about to stay in long enough to test the theory on my first polar bear swim – even though I wore wool socks to protect my toes.
Dip veteran George Pajari, on the other hand, splashed around with a pool noodle on his fourth outdoor swim of the day.
“I’m proud to share the moment of collective insanity,” Pajari said, adding that the water was much colder in Vancouver and Deep Cove than White Rock and Port Moody. “It’s a great way to start the year.”
It wasn’t the first plunge for Allen Peterson, 59, either. What started as a dare after a night of libations 35 years ago turned into a family tradition complete with penguin costumes, worn by his son Jason, 24, and friend Craig Blades, 30.
“We’re from Antarctica originally, so this is hot tub water for us,” Jason joked before the swim.
Cousins Sara Tourand, 18, and Alicia Ascon-Tourand, 14, both did the dip for the first time. Ascon-Tourand even dressed as Pooh bear for the occasion.
“I’ve never been in an ocean before,” Saskatchewan resident Tourand said. The giggling pair was excited and nervous – Ascon-Tourand “chickened out” last year.
About 25 boxes of food were donated to the food bank, the park board’s Healy said, and the event went off without any incidents. (Sometimes people imbibe liquid courage before they dive in, which can pose safety problems in the cold water, senior lifeguard Tom Hollett said.)
And your Metro correspondent can confirm the rumours are true – the polar bear swim really is the best cure for a New Year’s Day hangover.