Metro reporter takes icy polar bear plunge

rafe arnott/metro vancouver


Lindsay Izat, left, and Kirsty Dixon laugh off the freezing waters of English Bay after taking the plunge in the annual Polar Bear Swim yesterday. Participants were cheered on by thousands of people who lined Second Beach in the West End.

When the murky grey water touches your toes, licks at your ankles and folds around your calves, the cold burns a little — but it’s bearable. In fact, surrounded by thousands of adrenaline-filled strangers, it’s scarcely noticeable.

However, things quickly change, I learned yesterday.

Underwater, the cold crushes the air from your lungs. Your muscles seize and your breath comes out in short, panicked little pants.

All this lasts about five seconds, before you turn around and splash your way back to shore and the relative warmth of the beach.

More than 1,500 people braved the frigid waters of English Bay in 5 C weather during Vancouver’s 88th annual Polar Bear Swim — a New Year’s tradition for those looking to start the year off with a bang.

"It was pretty damn cold — pretty ‘blank’ cold," said Tracey Dunning, 25, who was participating in her second polar bear swim.

"It’s fun though," she added. "With the adrenaline, the cold doesn’t matter. The atmosphere is the most important thing."

Participants came in groups or pairs, some in elaborate costumes, dressed as clowns or as Vikings. Others shivered happily in Speedos. Thousands more dressed in jackets and toques packed the beach, taking photos and holding the blankets and towels for friends and family members.

"It’s cold," said Jon Matas, 32, who took part in the swim with his wife Lisa, 24.

"It’s sort of a tradition for me and my wife. We can bring our kids when we finally get some."