Polar Bear Swim brings chill to New Year

Up to 100 expected to take a dip in chilly Whiffin Spit waters on Jan. 1

  • Dec. 29, 2015 5:00 a.m.

Four friends. All firemen. New Year’s ’92 at Camp Barnard. One of them makes a bet to see who has the biggest cojones: jump into the lake and swim with nothing on but underwear.

“I dare ya, let’s go for a swim” said one of them, just before they all jumped into the freezing water.

The following year, the group upped their game. This time, Young Lake was frozen solid, not that it stopped them much, after all, they are firefighters made of sterner stuff; so they broke the ice and jumped in anyway.

After getting out and regaining some warmth back, they realized they were bloodied and full of scrapes from the ice.

“It was just good fun,” recalls Dave Gollmer, one of the friends from the group and a volunteer firefighter. Gollmer, member of some 35 years with Otter Point Fire and Rescue, is also president of the Otter Point Firefighters Association.

The test of personal courage was to be measured again and again, as the event grew into what became the biggest, most daring swimming event in Sooke: the annual Polar Bear Swim held on New Year’s Day.

Gollmer said it was in ’94, when the swim was moved over to Whiffin Spit (where it is held to this day) when Sookies of all ages joined in on the crazy fun.

“We basically told the public, ‘if you want to go for a [New Year’s Day] swim, join us’ and it just evolved from there as more people did it and more wanted to join in,” he said.

The swim ran every New Year’s uninterrupted, except in ’97, when it had to be cancelled due to a massive winter storm that blanketed most of Canada in December of ’96.

As far as how many shop up to freeze their nether regions for fun, well, numbers change year to year depending on the weather. Polar Bear swims in the last few years has seen between 80 to 100 people show up, depending on the weather.

At one time, the swim had more than 100 people join in, some with varying degrees of sanity. Gollmer recalls one particular individual who was so excited that he tried to swim over toward a Coast Guard boat and jump in.

No incidents have happened since then, as swimmers don’t stay in too long. In case they do however, there are crews from the Coast Guard, Coast Guard Auxiliary, and Sooke’s own Royal Marine Search and Rescue squad watching over the waters.

“We keep it real close to the parking lot, because when people come out, they want to get out, get warm and get dressed,” Gollmer said.

Those brave enough are invited to join the Polar Bear Swim 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” in which an actual brass cannon fires a shot out in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and launches everyone in the water.

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(Derek Ford / District of Saanich)
Greater Victoria residents are among the most credit-worthy Canadians, but overall debt level continues to rise. (Derek Ford / District of Saanich)
Saanich gets an ‘A’ on first climate change progress report card

The document highlights sustainability improvements made in 2020 despite the pandemic

West Shore RCMP say police presence in Esquimalt Lagoon Saturday was not related to the shooting death of a 37-year-old man in Metchosin Friday night. (Black Press Media File)
West Shore RCMP says presence in Esquimalt Lagoon Saturday was not related to death in Metchosin

Police continue to investigate what they describe as ‘targeted incident’ in death of a 37-year-old man

During a press event on March 6, Const. Alex Berube, media relations officer for the West Shore RCMP, addressed a deadly shooting that occurred in Metchosin the night before. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
VIDEO: One man shot dead in ‘targeted incident’ on Sooke Road

Highway 14 reopens following multi-hour closure for investigation

Ronald Schinners, owner of The Cabbie in the #YYJ, opened his taxi service in the West Shore last month. (Dawn Gibson/News Staff)
‘One man show,’ The Cabbie in the #YYJ cultivates 45,000 followers on Instagram

New taxi company brings unusual spunk to the West Shore

Zahra Rayani-Kanji of Heart Pharmacy, Sidney Pharmacy manager James McCullough, and Naz Rayani, owner and founder of Heart Pharmacy, join sisters Becky Brigham and Judy Costanzo outside the business. Sidney Pharmacy has become the sixth Heart Pharmacy outlet in Greater Victoria after its purchase from Brigham and Costanzo. Their parents, Frances and Jim Brigham, first opened the business in 1959. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Sidney Pharmacy changes ownership, but retains family tradition

First opened by Frances and Jim Brigham in 1959, Sidney Pharmacy is now part of Heart Pharmacy

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

The Port Alice pulp mill has been dormant since 2015. (North Island Gazette file photo)
Parts recycled, life returning to inlet as as old Port Alice mill decommissioned

Bankruptcy company oversees de-risking the site, water treatment and environmental monitoring

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Ex-B.C. teacher who was CFL kicker charged with assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Sweet taught in Mission School District for 10 years, investigators seek further witnesses

(Black Press Media files)
Medicine gardens help Victoria’s Indigenous kids in care stay culturally connected

Traditional plants brought to the homes of Indigenous kids amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Personal protective equipment is seen in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
$16.9 million invested to improve worker safety, strengthen B.C.’s food supply chain

Money to be used for social distancing, personal protective equipment, cleaning, and air circulation

Most Read