Strip down to your bathing suit, take a few steps over the snow and ice covering the ground, and hurl your body into ice-cold water. Sound like fun? Well, there are plenty of people who think it does, and these people get together to to this every year! Sometimes it’s for charity and sometimes it’s just for a challenge, but either way, thousands of people worldwide take to the icy winter waters every year.
These swims are understandably called “Polar Bear Swims”, and they usually take place in the sea.
The History of Polar Bear Swim Day
Polar Bear Swims have been practiced for well over a hundred years in different countries. The first recorded Polar Bear Swim took place in Boston 1904. In many Canadian communities, plunging into icy water for a swim is a New Year’s Day tradition. Vancouver’s annual Polar Bear Swim Club has been active since 1920 and usually has 1,000 to 2,000 registered participants every New Year’s Day, with a record 2,128 registrants taking part in the Polar Bear Swim in English Bay in 2000.
It would seem that the Netherlands have greatly outdone North America, as about 10,000 people have been diving into the icy cold sea water at Scheveningen, The Netherlands’ main beach resort town, every year since 1960. In fact, it is estimated that all over the Netherlands, 30,000 people take part in what they call “Nieuwjaarsduik” New Year’s dive) each and every year.
New Year’s Day is though to be the best day for this kind of swim, because as many participants have noted, after you’ve done that, no challenge the New Year could bring could possible phase you. However, some swimming clubs organize regular winter sessions. Plungapalooza is the largest polar bear plunge in the United States, held annually at Sandy Point State Park in Maryland.
The event, that raises funds for the Special Olympics, has managed to collect millions of dollars. The largest Plungapalooza to date took place in 2008, with an estimated 12,000 people participating.
How to Celebrate Polar Bear Swim Day
It’s actually quite simple: take part! Find out where the nearest Polar Bear Swim Day will be organized, and sign up. You can help raise money for those who need it, meet new friends and make some incredible memories! However, you should keep in mind that human beings don’t have the fat and fur that polar bears have to protect them from the cold.
Enter the water slowly so it’s not too much of a shock, and be sure to have a towel and dry clothes ready for as soo as you come out of the water. You should also warm your body up afterwards from the inside out with a hot drink or bowl of soup. The Polar Bear Swim is also not right for everyone, as it triggers many intense bodily reactions—you may start to hyperventilate because of the inability to take a deep breath for the first 30 seconds or so, and your heartbeat and blood pressure will probably increase drastically.
So if you have any heart condition or have the tendency to panic, you may be better off standing on the shore in your nice warm coat, hat and scarf, taking pictures and laughing at the people running right back out of the water as quickly as they ran into it. Either way, you will be able to be part of the fun!