There’s something about New Year’s Day in Greater Victoria that causes some folks to decide to throw themselves into the icy waters surrounding our homes, just for the fun of it.
Of course, that distinctly odd propensity to participate in a frigid swim as a way to mark the new year is something that the good people of Sooke have long embraced.
This year, the 28th Annual Polar Bear Swim will, once again, see about 100 hardy souls take to the waters off Whiffin Spit to test their mettle on the first day of the year.
“It’s a good way to clear the cobwebs from the celebrations of the night before,” said Otter Point fire chief, John McRea.
McRea’s Fire Department are the organizers of the event and will be on hand to offer encouragement (and potential medical care) to those taking the New Year’s Day plunge.
“We also have the Sooke Marine Rescue in their boat, sitting just off-shore, in case someone gets carried away but, honestly, we’ve never had that happen,” McRea said.
In fact, McRea admits that the term “swim” would be an overstatement.
“We use the term “plunge” since most of the folks don’t really stay in there too long. We actually encourage them not to,” McRea said.
In addition to the 100 plucky plungers, McRea expects the usual crowd of about 500 onlookers who, while not courageous enough to take to the water themselves, will still be out to cheer on those who do.
Asked whether he’ll be one of those in the water this year, McRea laughed and said that he’ll be staying on shore this year.
“I have done it before, as have most of the firefighters here in Otter Point,” McRea said.
“This year, though, I’ll be one of the ones cheering on those in the water.”
Asked what other dignitaries he expects at the swim, McRea observed that he wasn’t sure, but added that “politicians tend to be to smart to do this”.
The festivities will kick off with an 11:30 a.m. sign in at Whiffen Spit. The cannon (yes, they have a real miniature cannon) will go off at noon, signalling the madcap rush for the water.
“WE’ve had people visiting here from Australia, Africa and all around the world, really. They come to take the swim, I think, just so they can go home and tell people that they didi it,” McRea said.
“Some folks come in costumes as well. We’ve had everything from superheroes to ballerinas go into the water. |You never know who’s going to show up.”
There’s no age limit for the plunge and McRea said that people in their 80s have taken part as have whole families, including the kids.
After the plunge, swimmers will be treated to a roaring campfire and a cup of hot chocolate.
“They don’t tend to stick around too long after they go in.” McRea said.
“I’d guess most are going home for a hot shower.”