The Otter Point Volunteer Fire Department is hosting their 21st Annual Polar Bear Swim on Jan. 1 for anyone who dares to jump into the ocean on a frigid winter day.
The event which sees dozens of people participate every year, started as a challenge between four Otter Point firefighters in 1992 at Young Lake.
“We had the warden’s blessing to go ahead and be foolish on New Year’s Day and it went very well so we decided to make it an annual event,” said Dave Gollmer, Otter Point volunteer firefighter.
“Unfortunately, the second year the lake was frozen so we had a true polar bear event. We actually had to break the ice to do the swim.”
A few lacerations and bruises later, the firefighters decided it would be more suitable to host their private Polar Bear Swim challenge in more temperate waters.
“After the ice incident we decided we needed a change of venue, and the next year we decided we’d do a salt water swim because of the more consistent water temperature and the less chance of ice,” Gollmer said.
In 1995, the firefighters hosted their chilling challenge at Whiffin Spit, which gathered the attention of curious spectators who would later join in on the fun.
“Whiffin Spit was very busy that day, and it turns out, when you’re involved with the public the public want to get involved,” Gollmer said.
The event has been open to the public ever since, growing in participation each year, from seven in 1995 to 71 in 2012. Due to large participation numbers, the fire department has requested the prescence of the Sooke Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue team for safety reasons.
According to Gollmer, the energy and enthusiasm from the public has cemented the Polar Bear Swim as a Sooke tradition. The event has seen tourists from around the world, and participants who dress up in costume of their own initiative.
“It started off as a challenge and grew into a tradition,” he said. “I basically see a whole bunch of people living real large, basically saying ‘It’s a new year, bring it on.”
This year’s Polar Bear Swim will take place at Whiffin Spit on Jan. 1, with a brass cannon start at 12 p.m.
Everyone of all ages is welcome and the event is free.