Annual polar bear plunge draws thousands to Vancouver beach
Published Tuesday, January 1, 2013 4:50PM PST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 1, 2013 6:21PM PST
There was one cold, hard consoling fact for those participating in Vancouver's annual polar bear swim -- the water in English Bay was just slightly warmer than the air temperature.
Wearing spandex-like suits, sombreros and even bikinis, and urged on by chants, bullhorns, and even perhaps, a little bit of liquid courage, more than 2,200 people greeted the new year by plunging into the black waters off the city's downtown core on Tuesday afternoon.
The event was just one of many that took place across B.C., from Prince George to Williams Lake, and Tofino to Nelson.
Sean Healy, a spokesman for the City of Vancouver, said 2,233 registered for the 93rd annual swim and about 18,000 spectators watched.
"This is not only the largest polar-bear swim in the province, in fact, it's one of the largest polar-bear swims in the world," he said. "It's certainly the largest free event and it's certainly covered across the globe by the media."
Moments before the official 2:30 p.m. start, participants lined up behind a yellow ribbon and in a large, fenced-off corral.
Against a backdrop of the North Shore's snow-capped mountains, some revellers chanted phrases and slogans like "polar bear" and "we are cold, we are numb, we are really, really dumb."
Others, wearing sombreros, danced in circles.
Moments later, the crowd broke through the yellow ribbon and plunged into the ocean.
Luis Sintillan, a 43-year-old Ecuadorian, says he took the plunge for the first time because he's visiting Canada and was told he had to participate for the experience.
Sintillan said he comes from the Andes so he's not unfamiliar with the cold.
"We have lakes cold like this," he said. "For me, it was almost like my back home. I don't feel not too much cold. Maybe the weather's not too cold. But I have a good experience and I feel good, and now I'm more strong like a polar bear."
Loretta John, a 44-year-old West Vancouver resident who came from Prince George, B.C., was one of several participants who wore "Idle No More" shirts to protest the federal government's dealings with First Nations.
"To be here and to have this healing is really great," she said.
Jason Aviss of Langley, B.C., said he participated because the swim was a "cleansing thing," and he dressed in a tuxedo Morphsuit, a spandex-like full-body-suit, just to be formal.
Meantime, at least 50 people gathered in Riverside Park in Kamloops, B.C., to participate in the city's 21st annual polar bear swim.
Mike Sullivan said while he's participated in past polar bear swims in Vancouver, New Year's Day was the fist time he has taken the chilly plunge in Kamloops.
Encouraged by friends to participate, Sullivan said the swim sets a precedent for the rest of the year.
On Vancouver Island, hundreds of people gathered at Victoria's Elk Lake for the 37th swim, and the oldest participant was 83.