What you need to know before diving into a Polar Bear Swim

98th annual New Year’s dip takes place at English Bay

You’ve probably seen photos or videos of people in their bathing suits running frantically into a body of water on New Year’s Day and wondered what could cause someone in their right mind to want to do that.

Thousands of Canadians will take part in the ritual known as a Polar Bear Swim and plunge into extremely cold water to start 2018 off in a fresh and invigorating way. Some say taking the icy dip gives them an adrenaline rush, or clears their head.

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polar bear swim
Photo Rebecca Blissett


However there are factors to consider before enjoying a natural ice bath.

Matt White, an associate professor at SFU, studies temperature regulation and says anyone at risk of heart disease should consult his or her doctor before hitting the water.

“The body loses more heat in water than air,” White said. “Also, if you cough in water you can drown, it only takes half a coffee cup of water to drown.”

Those with high blood pressure should also consult a physician beforehand; the cold temperatures cause a significant spike in heart rate.

The City of Vancouver also includes the following tips for any potential swimmers:

  • Children must swim and stay with an adult
  • Please leave your dog at home
  • Do not drink — alcohol does not warm you up, it accelerates hypothermia
  • Do not stay in the water longer than 15 minutes
  • Do not remove your clothing until swim time.

This year will mark the 98th Polar Bear Swim at English Bay, the oldest event of its kind in Canada. Luckily there have been no injuries or other problems over the years at Vancouver’s event.

Sean Healy helps to organize the event and has taken part in the chilly festivities since the mid-’80s.

“Most people are very well prepared,” Healy said. “Our event does have a lifeguard present, unlike some other events.”


polar bear swim
Photo Rebecca Blissett


Aspen Percival has participated in Polar Bear Swims since she was 10 years old, when she made her parents wake up early and drive her down to the water.

“There’s something so primal about plunging into ice cold water,” Percival said. “It’s a symbolic reset for a new year, launching into a new year of possibilities.”

Douglas Canning, another avid participant, says he looks forward to diving in each year.

“It’s refreshing, each year it seems to get colder but it’s still fun,” Canning said. “Plus it’s the perfect hangover cure after a long New Year’s Eve night.”

The Polar Bear Swim at English Bay takes place on Jan. 1, 2018 from 2:30 to 3:30 pm and the registration form can be found on the City of Vancouver site HERE



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