News / Vancouver

PHOTOS: 1,761 leap into Vancouver's English Bay for New Year polar bear swim

Despite Jan. 1 dawning at -3C, on Monday a motley crew of vikings, reindeer and even a hippo converged in Vancouver's Pacific waters to ring in the New Year.

The Vancouver park board estimated that 1,761 participants in Vancouver's annual New Years Day Polar Bear Swim plunged en masse into chilly English Bay on Monday, Jan. 1, 2017.

David P. Ball / Metro Order this photo

The Vancouver park board estimated that 1,761 participants in Vancouver's annual New Years Day Polar Bear Swim plunged en masse into chilly English Bay on Monday, Jan. 1, 2017.

Vancouver's New Year dawned warmer than elsewhere in frozen-over Canada, starting Monday at a balmy -3C and hovering barely above freezing through the day.

And though many other cities in the current cold snap were forced to cancel their icy swims, that didn't deter a ragtag cast of costumed, shivering (and sometimes screaming) characters from across the city from ringing in the New Year shuddering in the waters of English Bay for the annual Polar Bear Swim.

David P. Ball/Metro

'I live across the street and figured I'd join the festivities,' said first-time plunge participant Septima Yasinowski (above, left), who told Metro a friend invited her to the swim, but then allegedly didn't show up himself. 'He definitely lied,' she joked. 'It was really cold, and it's really hard to warm up afterwards.'

Many Canadian cities' residents make such cold-water leaps, usually as brief as possible, on Jan. 1. But Vancouver's local tradition is one of the oldest, celebrating 98 years this year.

'It's my first time,' explains Nayoun Lee (centre) as she shivered on the beach after a water fight with her friend Minyoung Bae (left). 'I want to do it again!'

David P. Ball/Metro

David P. Ball/Metro

The pair of Vancouver residents, both from Korea, described their inaugural Polar Bear Swim experience as 'very cool — but not too cold.'

Lifeguards stood on guard on the beach and in rowboats near shore in case any chilly swimmers needed help. The Vancouver park board estimated that 1,761 participants took part this year, more than last year's estimated 1,500.

David P. Ball/Metro

While many participants Metro spoke to were first-timers, others said they've been attending literally for decades.

One of those veterans, wearing a large tin foil skull hat and festooned in artistically repurposed Starbucks coffee bags, was costume designer Dave Decarlo (right).

David P. Ball/Metro

When was his first Vancouver Polar Bear Swim?

'I was just four years old,' the 64-year-old revealed. 'This has become a Vancouver icon event, every year there's more people.'

David P. Ball/Metro

Costumes were plentiful among the thousands who braved the cold Monday afternoon, including a group with reindeer horns, and another all wearing viking helmets and braids.

One swimmer slowly drifted across the shoreline inside a tall purple hippo floatie, surrounded by splashing and shrieking plungers. And one group of Australians sported an inflatable yellow kangaroo.

But the inaugural event, in 1920, was likely far more demure — when the Polar Bear Swim's founder Peter Pantages led a group of nine swimmers into English Bay on New Years.

David P. Ball/Metro

More on Metronews.ca