Robert Barron column: Polar bear dip not for the weak

It always seems like a great idea the night before when everyone is in party mode

How many readers participated in one of the many polar bear swims that took place around the Island on New Year’s Day?

It always seems like a great idea the night before when everyone is in party mode, and jumping in frigidly cold water with your friends and/or family members comes across as the most fun activity ever conceived.

But that enthusiasm typically goes straight out the window the next morning when you wake up bleary from all the shenanigans from the previous evening, wondering how you managed to allow yourself to be so easily talked into throwing your body into the biting waters of the north Pacific Ocean in the middle of winter.

Mind you, it’s not as bad as what our countrymen to the east have to endure, where several feet of ice have to be cut out to clear an area for the polar bear swim devotees to dip themselves in.

But it’s not exactly warm here on the B.C. coast at this time of year, and the water is just not comfortable for most people to be in for any length of time.

A few years ago when I was working with the Nanaimo Daily News, my editor at the time, Philip Wolf, asked if I would take part in the annual polar bear swim in that city’s Departure Bay on Boxing Day and write about the experience for the next edition of the paper.

It was a cold and wet day, and I arrived a short time before the bell was rung for the all the swimmers to jump in.

I was surprised by the number of people participating, with many of them dressed up in Santa suits, Hawaiian skirts and other fun outfits.

I surveyed the scene and decided if I was to do this, I wanted to get it over with fast so I managed to position myself right in front of the waiting crowd on the beach and planned to be among the first in, and the first out.

The bell rang and I ran as fast as I could and dove in.

The water was numbing and took my breath away for a moment and I immediately turned around with the intent to get back to shore as fast as I could.

That’s when I realized the error of my strategy.

There were hundreds of people entering the water behind me, which left me no way to immediately get past them and onto the beach.

I frantically tried to find my way through the oncoming rush of frenzied people who showed no interest in being polite and allowing me some room to get around them as the vast majority were also focused on getting the deed done and returning to the bonfire on the beach as fast as possible.

For every two steps forward, I was pushed five feet back deeper into the ocean.

The rush of people only lasted a few seconds, but it seemed like hours to me.

I finally managed to pull my freezing body out of the water and took my place next to the other “survivors” at the bonfire.

Despite the heat from the fire, I was chilled right to my core and headed home where I stood in my shower for the better part of an hour before my body temperature finally returned to normal.

It was the last time I ever did a polar bear swim.

Happy New Year everyone!



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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