Wednesday 1 January 2014

Stories From Behind the Beach: Another Crazy Tradition

"You never take advice, someday you'll pay the price..."

Happy New Year!

Some of us spend the first day of a new year recovering from the night before.

Other, more diligent, types take the time to prepare lists of resolutions.

Yet others decide to start the New Year with a refreshing swim.

Most of those people happen to be enjoying the Southern Hemisphere summer, or near the Equator, where the water is warm and the breezes warmer.

But in Port Dover thousands braved the cold to watch a hundred or so braver souls partake in the New Year's Day traditional polar bear dip.

Yep, people will clamber across the ice to slip into the just-above-freezing water.

On purpose.

Some have been doing it every year for over a quarter century.

As a sailor, this is completely anti-instinctual.  My goal is to stay warm and dry and out of the water, not vice versa.  But, I figured I'd check it out, because it is another of our great weird regular events down here.

The 80s were a time for unorthodox traditions to take hold in Port Dover.  Just as riding your motorcycle to town on Friday the 13th has become a longstanding and proud tentpole event for the town, so has the New Year's Day dip.  According to local lore, the dip dates back to 1982, when a handful of hardy souls tokk the plunge to raise funds for the town's arena.  Since then, the event has become an anticipated annual spectacle, with funds raised for a different local cause every year.  Spectators are encouraged to dig into their pockets and toss coins and bills into buckets carried by volunteers working the crowd.

  This year, the air temperature was decidedly brisk:

   -9 Celsius.

  The weather during the past week also added yet another sadistic twist to the Dip.  Ice.

   See, this event is not a simple Start-at-the-edge-of-the-beach-dip-your-toes-in-and-climb-into-a-warm-towel-blanket-car-sauna-whatever  sorta thing.


  Half the adventure is just getting there, because the mentally disturbed participants gather at Knechtels restaurant, behind the beach  at the end of Walker Street.  Then they have to run/walk/slip/slide hundreds of metres through the crowd...

...just  to get to the water's edge.

   The weather warmed up on the weekend and then chilled off quickly, making the normally snow-covered beach ice-covered instead.

  Which made for a very slippery dash indeed.

  Conditions didn't deter the masochists brave swimmers.  About a hundred, of all ages, dove in.


    See the ladder?  More on that in a bit.

Then once you actually get to the water....

 .... It is so shallow you have to wade out  to get deep enough to immerse yourself.

   You can almost hear them, can't you?  "Ohmigodohmigodohmigodohmigodohmigod!!!!"

  For some, simply plunging into freezing (literally) water isn't punishment enough.

  No, for years these two brothers have brought their ladder  so that they can belly-flop.

  Just looking at that picture makes my testicles want to hide behind my liver.

  Dippers started to run into the water at 1 o'clock in the afternoon, and by 1:45 it was all over but the shivering, and a few thousand dollars was raised for the Port Dover Public Library.

  Nobody has ever raised any money writing a resolution list.

  Next year, I might have to step out from behind the camera and do it myself.

   As one shivering blanket-wrapped swimmer said, "Do this on the first day of the year, and it makes whatever happens during the rest of the year easier to handle.

   I've got 364 days to prepare.

   That's about 350 days longer than my resolutions' lifespan.

Who's gonna join me?

"Talk the Dock!"


  1. Yikes! No Thanks you! I'll take the balmy 25 here in Virginia Beach!

  2. I did it my first year (actually in one of your photos which is great because we forgot our camera!) It was worth it-- one more thing off the bucket list ;)