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Greater Trail polar bear dip puts chill in 2013

Record numbers hit the frigid waters of the Columbia River on Tuesday for the 27th annual Polar Bear Dip on New Year’s Day in Gyro Park. The water temperature was above freezing—barely—as over 160 people took the plunge. - Timothy Schafer
Record numbers hit the frigid waters of the Columbia River on Tuesday for the 27th annual Polar Bear Dip on New Year’s Day in Gyro Park. The water temperature was above freezing—barely—as over 160 people took the plunge.
— image credit: Timothy Schafer

The gauntlet had been thrown down.

When Mike Makway saw the look on the face of his eight-year-old son, Judah, after he said he didn't want to go into the Columbia River for the annual Polar Bear Dip, he knew he had to do something.

Mike's friend, Brian Lauzon, had been taking part in the New Year's Day dip in Gyro Park for 15 years, and it was that stick Mike knew he had to measure up to.

“I could realize (Judah) was starting to lose respect for me, so I figured I had to go in,” Mike said, recalling the reason for his first plunge two years ago.

On Tuesday, Mike was joined by not only Judah, but his other son, Asher, 6, in the crisp Columbia River waters for the annual Polar Bear Dip.

A New Year's Day tradition in Trail for 27 years—and across the country since 1920—polar bear dips are a uniquely Canadian endeavour, one that tests the mettle of the most hardened Canuck.

Including eight-year-old mettle. Judah wasn't as fearful of the frigid water as he was at first flush.

“It was not as cold as I thought it would be,” he said after exiting the river, warmly wrapped in his winter garb.

For Mike and Brian, the river's mind-numbing cold was every bit it was made out to be.

“It's fairly shocking,” Mike said about hitting the water. “It's a bit horrendous, but as long as you have other people doing it, you get a bit more fired up.”

“Yeah. But (the cold) gets way worse every year,” Brian added.

The 27th annual Polar Bear Swim came off with military precision, and the host 44th Engineer Squadron and Cpl. Chris Buckley led the charge into the seven degree Celsius water at noon, staying in the water for over 10 minutes.

Nearly 160 people showed up for a dip, up from 150, with almost 500 on the shore huddled near the fire.

The Trail dip started 27 years ago when seven members of the 44 Engineer Squadron decided to jump into the river.

The nation's oldest club in Vancouver has been active since 1920 and typically has 1,000 to 2,000 registered participants, with a record 2,128 registrants plunging into English Bay in 2000.

Not all Canadian dips take place in January.

In Yellowknife, NWT, the Freezin for a Reason plunge is held in March after the spring thaw.

Although emergency service workers were on site, and the Trail fire department on the river in a rescue boat, their services were not needed.

After the swim, dippers gathered around the bonfire blazing on the beach, and hot chocolate was served while a pile of prizes was drawn.

Every registrant was given a free pass for a swim in a much warmer body of water than the Columbia River and a relaxing dip in a hot tub courtesy of the Trail Parks and Recreation Aquatic Centre.

 

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