Sookies prepare to take New Year’s Day dip

Annual Sooke Polar Bear Swim set to go on Jan. 1 at Wiffin Spit

The 2017 Polar Bear Swim is fast approaching for those thick-skinned and massive cojone-wearing Sookies.

On New Year’s Day, you can test your might too, by grabbing a swimsuit and joining dozens of other locals by jumping into a welcoming (but very cold) Pacific Ocean.

Organized by Otter Point Fire and Rescue, the Polar Bear Swim has become the most extreme and daring swimming events in Sooke.

“I do it because it’s an invigorating way to start the new year, and it’s a lot of fun to do something a bit crazy to start of the year with about a hundred other people who think like you,” said Duane Cutrell, a volunteer firefighter with Sooke Fire.

Cutrell pointed out that he’ll usually start thinking of heading back to the warm shore after about a minute in the cold water.

“Your extremities will start to tingle, since you are losing body heat and your body is trying to adjust by pulling your warm blood to your core,” he said. “This is the point that I get out of the water, dry myself, start putting on clothes and warming up.”

The bone-freezing tradition in Sooke started from a dare between four Otter Point firefighters (Dave Gollmer and three others) on New Year’s Day in 1992 at Camp Barnard: jump in and swim wearing just underwear.

They did, and eventually, the test of personal bravery (and insanity) grew from four people into more than a hundred, all descending into the cold waters at Whiffin Spit every New Year’s Day.

Anyone willing to join the Polar Bear Swim can come down to the Whiffin Spit on Jan. 1, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The swim officially kicks off at noon with the traditional “cannon start” where a brass cannon fires a shot out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, launching everyone in the water.

Some take the swim as a chance to let loose as well. One year, a Sooke man became so excited he swam to a Coast Guard boat and tried to jump in.

Needless to say, getting too cold was the least of his problems.


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