Swimmers dashed out of Okanagan Lake following the Polar Bear Dip on Jan. 1. Around 150 people took part in the annual event at Sunoka Beach.

Icy swim held to mark start of year

For around 150 swimmers, 2014 started with a splash as they participated in the 29th Annual Polar Bear Dip.

For around 150 swimmers, 2014 started with a splash as they participated in the 29th Annual Polar Bear Dip.

The brief swim is organized each year by the Summerland Kinsmen Club.

“This is a community event we do, just to give back to the community,” said Benjamin Forbes, chair of the Polar Bear Dip committee.

The swim took place at noon at Sunoka Beach. Most of the participants were in and out of the frigid water in a matter of seconds.

The temperature was -2.3 Celsius and the water, while not frozen, was almost as cold.

For Allison Howard, the annual event has turned into a New Year’s Day tradition.

She has taken part for the past six years.

The first time she joined the Polar Bear Dip was at the insistence of her friends.

“After that, it just seemed like a fun thing to do,” she said.

For this year’s dip, she and six friends were dressed in costume, wearing Canadian flags and headwear.

Cameron Periera, a first-time participant, showed up with his friend Keith Kello.

“We just had a good thought last night to try this, to see what it’s like,” Periera said shortly before the swim.

While the water was cold, participants did not seem to mind.

“It was great,” said John Trewhitt, a first-time participant.

Trewhitt described the water as “burning cold.”

“It’s so cold that it feels warm. The skin’s on fire,” he said.

Others agreed that the cold water was overwhelming.

“It was good, but it was cold, too,” said Jason Wagner, participating  for the third time. “It’s shocking. It sucks all the air out of you.”

Wagner and his children participated in the dip as a family. He plans to continue as long as they want to participate.

For Whitney Whitnack, in Summerland from New Zealand, the secret to a good Polar Bear Dip is to keep it short.

“I was in and out as fast as I could,” she said.

Ann Currie, a first-time participant, thought out her reasons before deciding to take the icy plunge.

Her reasons included “a little awareness for our land and our water — and a bit of stupidity,” she said. She added that she will likely participate again.