Hypothermia: In cold weather, your body may lose heat faster than you can produce it. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. It can make you sleepy, confused and clumsy. Because it happens gradually and affects your thinking, you may not realize you need help. That makes it especially dangerous. You can get it from being cold and wet, or under cold water for too long.
Hypothermia can lead to death if not treated promptly. (source)
Date: January 1, 2010
Time: 2:30pm to 2:31pm
Weather: 5 degrees with heavy rain
Over 1500 adventure-bound Vancouverites took to the icy waters of English Bay beach off the pacific ocean on New Years day 2010 for the 90th annual Polar Bear Swim. Spirits were high as everyone gathered on the cold, wet sand decked out in lavish costumes, homemade getups, and other outfits that can only be described delicately as ‘obvious cries for help’. From clowns to Vikings to Viking clowns, the scene was an eclectic showcase of Vancouver’s free spirited individuals. Several news teams and thousands of onlookers were also out in full force; cameras aloft and working away like red carpet photographers.
You can certainly take pictures of it, write about it, talk about it, watch it on TV in a news clip and maybe even view it live on the beach but nothing beats actually doing it. First hearing about this crazy event from a friend, I decided to go out and finally see what all the fuss was about.
Like me, some of you may have falsely believed you can simply waltz onto the beach, slip into a swimsuit and then jump in the water and be done with the whole ‘polar bear thing’. To you I say: “You fools!” There’s so much more to it than that. Fortunately, my trusty guide and invitee took me under her wing and showed me the way of the Polar Bear.
Step 1: The Ensemble
Basic swimsuits are fine (for amateurs, scoff, scoff) but purists know the whole point of the chilly dunk is letting go and giving yourself up to the experience. Something you can only do in a getup. The more ridiculous or outrageously hilarious you look, the better for our amusement. For some reason, self-realization is actually enhanced when you’re wearing Viking horns and a diaper.
– The brighter the better
– Accessories are a must
– The crazier the better
– Yes, your birthday suit IS considered an ensemble
– Whatever you choose, have fun with it
My trusty guide helped put an ensemble together that made me feel like a free spirit (the self-realization part is that I also realized I looked like a fool). It involved a tiara (for the princess in me), Mardi Gras style necklaces (a must for all free spirits), red, glittery pom poms (to cheer on other free spirits), sparkly makeup (got washed off in the pouring rain) and a whistle (not part of the costume, simply used to scare off anyone who gets too close to your ‘free spirit’). And voila, step one complete.
Step 2: Getting There
You’re better off walking or taking a taxicab but your best bet is always public transit. Reminiscent of the parking situation during the fireworks shows during the summer, there’s nowhere to park and traffic moves at a standstill at best. Also, get there early. Gigantic crowds have a tendency to move slowly when you’re in a rush. The event was slated to start at 2pm. Arriving promptly at 2:20pm, we only had time to toss off our jackets and shoes, strip down and get right into the melee on the beach (another tip – arrive ready to jump in). This meant our socializing was limited to after the plunge only and not before. Surprisingly, it’s easy to meet new people when you’re wearing a wet t-shirt and bathing suit bottoms.
Step 3: Taking the Plunge
Again, the naïve amongst you might believe you can simply walk up to the ocean, dangle your feet in the water and be done with it.
Tsk tsk tsk.
This is where the experience of your guide is key. Mine had me step back several feet from the water and told me to run like heck and jump in. For first timers, it’s one way to ensure they get all the way in. No second-guessing when you’re up to your waist in 7-degree water and change your mind. Toe dipping is also not an option. Full immersion up to your neck or nothing!
You’ll be surprised, when you first walk out of the icy depths, at how warm you feel. It washes over you almost immediately and you’re tempted to jump back in the water and splash around a little longer. Instinctively, you want to towel off and get changed into the dry clothing you packed (another tip!) but you’ll have no proper motor function right away. The cold water makes buttoning and tying and knotting almost impossible as your system tries to regain its lost body temperature by pulling heat from your hands, legs, fingers and toes. Still wearing a soaked swimsuit and a dripping wet ensemble, I happily traipsed around the beach laughing and smiling and taking pictures with others fresh from their dips.
Step 4: Make it a Memory
There’s no point to doing anything (legal at least) if there’s a: no record of it and/or b: no witnesses to see you do it. Take photos, take names and take note- while everyone you know is probably recovering from their New Years’ eve shenanigans by laying on a couch somewhere and nursing their outdated 2009 hangovers, you’re out here taking a huge, frozen bite out of 2010, yeah!! (also, beware of brain freeze)
Also, if any of you are curious about what it’s like to immerse yourselves in water suitable only for polar bears then I suggest you do the following:
- Fill your bathtub to the brim with water from the cold-water tap;
- Add 3 cups of ice cubes, 2 cups of sand from the beach and one cup of water from the hot water tap;
- Stir briskly until the ice cubes have just melted, take a step back and jump in.
Welcome to the newly minted Polar Bear Bathtub club! Just make sure you take a picture and get a witness to see you do it. Otherwise…
It doesn’t count.