Around the world, taking a dip in the ocean on Christmas or New Year’s Day has become a popular tradition. Normally, jumping into cold water on a cold day is not remotely appealing to most of us, but for some, that freezing cold dip is irresistible once a year. Throughout Ireland and Great Britain, Christmas Day sea swims are huge events. Known as polar bear plunges in Canada and the USA, these events are also popular on New Year’s Day. What makes people brave the waves? They are often organised as charity fundraisers, and some insist they are also a great hangover cure and a way to combat the effects of too many Christmas goodies. No question they are invigorating and give a new appreciation of just being alive!
A polar bear plunge can create a real community spirit and definitely gives you bragging rights. For some, it is a family tradition. Perhaps the best part is the celebration afterwards! If you are going to take the plunge and try a New Year’s Day dip, you do need to be prepared.
What to Know Before You Dive in…
First, stick with organized events where there will be lifeguards and experienced cold water swimmers. Weather can be changeable, so the organizers should be prepared to reschedule if the day is not suitable. If you don’t exercise regularly, talk to your doctor first. It is entirely acceptable to wear a wetsuit, especially your first time. The other option is a swimsuit. You can add a Santa hat, but don’t get into the ocean in clothes or a costume. It’s just not safe. And save the drinks until well after your swim!
Expect to be shocked a bit by the cold. It’s best to get moving quickly and to get out quickly. This isn’t about endurance! Don’t swim too far into the sea, even if you know the area. Getting out of the water is a key part of the event. If you are jumping off of a dock or using stairs, check them before you get in to ensure you’re going to be able to get out safely.
At most of these events, the supporters outnumber the swimmers and that is part of the fun. It’s great to have friends and family cheering you on, and it is even better when they are waiting for you with a big towel and a hot cup of tea or coffee. Don’t linger on the beach in the cold when you are wet; that’s a recipe for hypothermia. Water Safety Ireland uses the motto ‘get in, get out, and warm up’.
Once you’ve accomplished a polar bear plunge, it’s time to think about a little gift for yourself to commemorate the occasion. You’ve definitely earned some stunning wave jewelry as well as bragging rights.