by Heidi Ng
February 2, 2014 

The Polar Bear Swim was the anticipated January 1 event at the English Bay to welcome the new year. This year, people from all over the world participated in a record breaking swim, joined in by 2,550 swimmers clad in swimsuits, and hilarious costumes ranging from superheroes, bridezilla, a giant polar bear head, and Santa Clauses and reindeers.
I was talking to Glenn Schultz, Supervisor of Beaches of Vancouver Parks and Recreation boards and he mentioned that there was a big contingent that came from Australia this year, some from the Philippines, and just people from all over. This year breaks the record set in 2011, since it had the most ‘polar bear’ swimmers join in to dip for a few seconds, or stay longer for a few minutes. They were discouraged to stay longer than 30 minutes by the lifeguards, as consequences such as hypothermia can result from staying in too long.
  • Brave Polar Bear swimmers dip into the freezing waters
    Brave Polar Bear swimmers dip into the freezing waters
The water temperature was at 8 degrees, with the wind chill factor at 6 degrees. The warmest ever polar bear swim happened on a day that had 9 degrees temperature but that is still too cold for me. I came to English Bay covered in four layers of clothing, with  rabbit boots, fleece jackets, and a huge goose down jacket. I covered up with mittens and toque and it was still freezing for me. It was a windy day for the swimmers but their spirit was contagious. I was among the 10,000 spectators who cheered on the costumed polar bear swimmers.
The Polar Bear event is one of the oldest in the world, and certainly one of the biggest. It was started in 1920 by a man called Peter Pandages. The swim has grown from around 10 swimmers in that year to the new record of 2,550 official entries set in 2014.
The swim generally takes place at 2:30pm on the first day of each new year. Costumes and the Peter Pantages Memorial 100 yard swim race are the highlights of this event.
It is free to register and become a member of the Polar Bear swim club. Prizes are drawn from all registrations. Registration was in front of the English Bay Bathhouse between 12:30pm and 2:30pm on New Year’s Day.
The Greater Vancouver Food Bank accepted donations of non-perishable food or cash.
Here are some swim tips taken from the Vancouver Parks website if you have plans to join the Polar Bear Swim in Vancouver, or in other parts of the world. There is a Polar Bear swim in Russia, Holland, Coney Island, New York.
If you have a heart problem – just watch!
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. Body heat is lost 25 times faster in water than in air.
Do not remove your clothing until swim time. The swim will be started by a flag and siren.
Entrants in the 100 yard race – meet in the front line on the north side (Stanley Park side) of the enclosure.
First three swimmers to touch the marker buoy by the lifeguard boat – give your names to the lifeguard.
After you swim, pick up your commemorative button at the large polar bear or at the registration table.
Warm up with coffee or hot chocolate.
As a spectator, I felt the palpable energy of all those brave 2,550 swimmers. It was a celebration of the human spirit’s tenacity, energy, and positivity. This was a great way to start the new year. The lessons of a can-do attitude is inspiring. If these people can succeed in doing what seems to be hard and impossible, I can, too, in other areas of my life. To succeed, we need determination, preparation, hard work and a little dose of spunk and craziness.
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