Polar Bear Dip - Into the Abyss

Friday, February 3, 2017

On January 1st at 12pm, under the icy rays of a winter sun, I dove into Lake Ontario and a new year.
  • It was 3 degrees Celsius (that’s 37.4 Fahrenheit)
  • It was cold.
  • It was blue.
  • And it kick-started my spirit. 

Looking out at the lake that morning, its surface glimmering, as though it was somehow floating millions of tiny diamonds towards our shivering skins, I felt giddy and had a nervous smile that could not be calmed.

Some how water looks richer in the winter, before the ice and snow capture it for their own.

So why the dip? Why jump into ice cold water on the morning of New Year’s Day, when I could have just stayed home bundled up and enjoying some family time:

1. The Polar Bear Dip is for a good cause, the money raised for this event goes towards Habitat for Humanity.

2. After an incredible year of swimming in 2016 —momentous swimming, full of adventures and beautiful swim holes —I wanted to continue that trend into 2017. I wanted to start the year in water, and not just a pool, a big body of water. I wanted to start my year by jumping into something grand. The intention was to run, leap or just flop into the abyss… and see what happens, with a smile and a shout!

3. Maybe there is a tiny part of me that just likes a good old fashioned adrenaline rush.

The Toronto Polar Bear dip takes place once a year at Sunnyside Beach. Swimmers or Dippers, I suppose, begin to gather on the beach around 11am to stake out their spots, by laying out blankets with all their extra warm gear at the ready. The actual dip happens an hour later at noon.
Me, and the my team of supporters (my husband Kyle, daughter Nomi and sister Kaurel and her little one, Lila) showed up early. I registered and got my super cool Polar Bear toque. Then we waited in the crowd of over 600 dippers for noon to arrive. There was classic rock, people in hilarious costumes (ahem, a gang of bearded men in pink tutus and g-strings… EPIC), and lots of puffy winter coats covering up swim suits of all sorts.

At noon, they gathered us together on a section of the beach that had been cornered off with some tape. I was standing beside a father daughter duo who had done the dip the previous year. They told me that the year before it had been freezing rain and was so miserable out and that we were very lucky to have such a great day this year. Sun and relatively little wind. They were also discussing their “entry strategies”, would they run, would they walk, would they walk half way and then just throw themselves in? It was all up for debate.

Then the countdown started.

And then I was running with a crowd of many towards the shimmering water! My entry was a run, and a flop. I’d like to think it was a dive, but it was flop. I went right under, it was sharp and invigorating. It woke me up. The adrenaline froze in my veins. And then just like that, I was running out of the water and towards my warm clothes on the beach.

I was probably in the water for maybe a 1 minute total. But it was awesome. I loved the freeze, I loved the crowd and the excitement. And I loved that the start of 2017 was spent in a beautiful body of water! Huzzah!

Now someone get me to a sauna!

So here are my takeaways…
1. Arriving at 11am, though I had a very quick registration process and snagged some prime real estate on the beach for my stuff, was kind of not so great… because I had an hour to wait in the cold. It would have been fine to come a little later and stay a little warmer.

2. Wear lots of warm loose clothing and make sure to bring some kind of large moo-moo style outfit to change under after.
3. Swim shoes are a really good idea!
4. On that note, don’t make the mistake I made and wear socks in your swim shoes. You have to wear swim shoes because the bottom of the lake is mostly stone, so it’s nicer on your feet. I thought I would keep my socks on, because it was just so cold. BIG MISTAKE! When I got out of the water, the cold socks just retained the chill and my feet were like Popsicles. Just take them off. Trust me. Go in with you suit and shoes ONLY! I should note that I also jumped in with a toque, that was okay because I could take it off right away.

5. Have a thermos of hot chocolate or coffee ready to go.

6. Cheering squads are pretty nice to have!

7. However you decide to get in… go all the way… dunk that head and wake up! It’s worth it.

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  1. that looked like a lot of fun - great to see so many people there.

    i love how you feel when you get out of cold water - its like your whole body glows.


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