This may surprise you – polar bears are not just animated icons used by otherwise intimidating food and drink corporations, but they’re real animals that are all white.
They’re a bit like living snowmen that can take your eye out and eat your leg. This danger factor is why so-called polar bear swims don’t actually involve the animals themselves, but rather use the bear as a symbol of swimming in absurdly cold waters. For some reason, this bracing experience (like the one in Vancouver; our featured image by karen.tkr) is most popular on New Year’s Day. If that’s your sort of thing, you’ll like this lot… you hot-blooded adventurers.
Coney Island, New York, USA
Founded in 1903 and immortalised by sitcom Seinfeld (which joked about the hygiene of swimming in the waters around New York), the world’s most famous polar bear club raises thousands of dollars for charity each year through its big dip on New Year’s Day.
Swimmers dress in all sorts of costumes and seeing as around 1,500 of them partake, it can be pretty entertaining for the thousands of less-adventurous onlookers.
The Loony Dook is the name of the raucous polar bear swim held in the South Queensferry area of Scotland’s capital. As the name might imply, thousands actively dress like loonies and parade around town before jumping into the cold waters of the Firth of Forth.
The small entry fee goes to support the local lifeguard association, which seems smart given that Hogmanay revelries the night before may have dulled some people’s swimming capabilities.
Annapolis, Maryland, USA
Reportedly the largest polar bear swim in the USA, with around 12,000 wild-at-heart people in one recent year, the Annual MSP Polar Bear Plunge is also known as Plungefest or Plungapalooza to those in the know.
It takes place near the end of January when most plungers have nowhere else to do a massive splash, so maybe that’s why it’s so popular.
Around 2,200 people registered to take part in the polar bear swim in English Bay last year, but registration is often skipped and thousands more than that end up pouring into the water.
The dippy dippers have been dipping here for more than 90 New Year’s Days so far, and long may this continue.
The Tooting Bec Lido in south London is the second-largest outdoor freshwater pool in Europe, and is unsurprisingly popular with polar bear swim enthusiasts.
The lido holds the UK Cold Water Swimming Championships near the end of January each year, including an extreme 450-metre race that only the very hardiest are allowed to enter.
Russian polar bear swimmers prefer to be called walruses, and their big dip is held on January 17 to coincide with the Three Kings holiday on the Eastern Orthodox calendar.
What diving into freezing water has to do with giving some myrrh to a baby Jesus, nobody really knows, but many insist it represents Jesus’ later baptism in the River Jordan. We’re pretty sure the Jordan is nowhere near as cold as the Moskva though.
The Nieuwjaarsduik is the biggest New Year’s Day dip in the world, with around 36,000 people coming together to go polar.
The majority taking part (around 10,000) are on the beach in Scheveningen, while others take part all over the Dutch coastline.
All the plungers everywhere sport bobble hats in the national orange colour to show their solidarity – it makes the chaos on the beaches seem even more surreal.