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10 Facts About the Polar Bear Plunge
Are they mad? Dive in water at 8 degrees Celsius (46 F)! Maybe they are, but people have been known to do weirder things.
- A polar bear “swim” or “dive” is a tradition that dates back over 100 years. It originated in the Scandinavian sauna tradition as a way to cool down quickly after the heat of a sauna.
- In China and Russia, ice swimming is said to be beneficial to health and is practiced whenever the need arises, not just on New Year’s Day.
- Russian ice swimmers are called “walruses” instead of North American “polar bears”.
- In North America, the oldest annual fall belongs to Boston, MA (1904). The water in Dorchester Bay was 3 degrees Celsius (37 F) on January 1, 2012 – barely above freezing. Anyway, more than 600 swimmers came to take the waters.
- Full immersion is the goal for purists. They say it’s not so bad once you get your head wet. I do not know !
- Costumes are optional but preferred in North America. Superhero costumes are common. At least one person has donned a polar bear costume.
- The largest event in Canada takes place in Vancouver, British Columbia. Vancouverites plunge into a freezing English bay, which is part of the Pacific Ocean. The swim was started in 1921 by a local restaurateur who invited friends to join him for a quick dip and rewarded them with a free lunch. Today there are more than 2,000 participants and 10,000 spectators.
- The water temperature in English Bay on New Years Day is usually around 8 degrees Celsius. Considering that normal body temperature is 37 degrees Celsius, you can see that there is a significant gradient. Most people rush in and get out immediately. A few brave souls swim for a few minutes, but the majority just dive. One participant commented that “it’s quite nice once you lose feeling in your limbs”.
- On January 1, 2012, a record 36,000 polar bear swimmers were seen in various locations in the Netherlands.
- Thousands of dollars are raised for charity each year by New Year’s “Polar Bears”.
Diving in freezing water can be done for health, fun, charity, or just to cross it off your to-do list. If you missed the New Year’s dip, you can head north to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, for their “Freezin’ for a Reason” march in Great Slave Lake, 400 km away ( 250 miles) south of the Arctic Circle.
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