Polar Bear Swim – New Year’s Day

So tradition on New Years Day in Vancouver is to take part in the Polar Bear Swim at English Bay. Its a fancy dress swim/dip alongside a 100m race out to a buoy.

The swim started at 2 30 and as luck would have it it was snowing in the morning in Vancouver just to help us all prepare for the swim.

I met Daniel, who is doing the Whistler 70.3 as well, at 2 10 on the beach and worked out what was going on. We had both brought bags which was a mistake as there were so many people and we didn’t know where to leave them. As it turned out lots of people had done this and said it was pretty safe.

Its a fancy dress event and people take it all very seriously, there were all sorts of outfits from policeman to ogres but my favourites were definitely the people dressed up as Polar Bears. Unfortunately we didn’t participate in the fancy dress. (side note of confusion, in Canada fancy dress means very smart, not costumes)

We worked out way to the front and were ready to go but before the race officially started some people set off, which meant everyone followed and it was all a bit chaotic. Daniel and I bravely ran towards the seas with hundreds of other people, most of them screaming, and at this point I was fully intending to be involved with the race.

I wasn’t far of being one of the first in but the volume of screaming was already impressive. Having run and then dived in to the water I was still planning to be involved in the race. However, after about 4 strokes I realised that this was not happening. I have swum in some very cold water but this was something else, it sucked all the energy and air out of me instantly. While it was ok (still bloody cold) to stand in there was no way I was swimming 100m and then having to come back as well. I now understood all the screaming and added my own to the group!

We quite quickly exited before being very brave and returning briefly and with a lot more noise. This was followed by a hasty retreat to our towels and warm clothes to recover and collect our medal (badge) to prove we were now officially polar bears.

The whole thing was over in a flash as you cant hang around for too long. It goes on for about an hour with people coming and going but the busiest time is the start. They say a couple of thousand people do it although that seemed a bit high to me. I was seriously impressed/worried about how long some of the people managed to stay in there so hats off to them.

I will definitely be back for another New Years swim although next year I think I will be at home in the UK. The next time I will make sure I’m more mentally prepared and may eat more over christmas to be more insulated as well!!


2018 was a pretty awesome year for me and today was a beautiful day and a great fresh start to 2019. I can’t wait to see what this year has in store for me and while it may struggle to top 2018 I’m sure I will have enough adventures to keep things interesting.

P.S. Canada needs to get itself a Gulf Stream, highly recommended.

Categories Trips

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