Polar Bear Swims in Metro Vancouver
A crazy annual tradition for many Vancouverites is taking a plunge in the icy waters of the ocean on New Year’s Day.
The Polar Bear Swim at English Bay in Vancouver attracts the largest crowds. The Penguin Plunge at Panorama Park in North Vancouver’s Deep Cove is a similar, although much smaller, event and usually includes live entertainment. Also popular are the Polar Bear Swim by the pier event in White Rock, the Penguin Plunge in Port Moody, the Polar Bear Swim in Delta and a dip in the river in Fort Langley.
Below are details on each of the six events. Scroll down for information about them all, or click on any of the following links for details about each specific location.
Note: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these events did not take place in-person in 2021 and 2022. Some New Year’s Day swims are definitely happening in 2023, while details about others are to be confirmed.
White Rock Polar Bear Swim
The Polar Bear Plunge in White Rock is hosted by the Rotary Clubs of White Rock & South Surrey. The White Rock event happened in 2020 but then took place as a virtual event in 2021 and 2022.
Fortunately, the White Rock Polar Bear Plunge returns as a live event on January 1st in 2023! At the 53rd annual swim, registration for participants takes place starting at around 10:30 am and the plunge happens at 12:00 pm.
For more information click White Rock Polar Bear Swim.
English Bay Polar Bear Swim
The English Bay Polar Bear Swim has been taking place in the icy waters of English Bay every year on January 1st since 1920. It’s one of the oldest and largest events of its kind in the world and it usually attracts over 2,000 participants most years and thousands more that come to watch.
The event takes place at English Bay Beach which is located near the intersection of Denman Street and Davie. The Cactus Club restaurant is close by and its address is 1790 Beach Avenue in case you need the location for your GPS or want a nice place to warm up at afterwards.
In 2022, like the year before, the event was a virtual one. In 2023 the swim returns as an in-person event.
English Bay Polar Bear Swim Video
Watch the following video to get an idea of what to expect at the English Bay Polar Bear Swim.
English Bay Swim Details
The Polar Bear Swim at English Bay takes place on January 1st in 2023, from noon until 4:00 pm. It’s a free event, although participants must fill out a registration form which includes a waiver of liability. In 2023 the actual swim starts at 2:30 pm and there’s live music, food trucks, warming tents and more on site.
Click Vancouver Polar Bear Swim for more information.
Penguin Plunge in Deep Cove
(Note: People celebrated from home in 2021 and 2022. 2023 details are to be confirmed.)
The Deep Cove Penguin Plunge traditionally runs from 12:30 until around 3:00 pm at Panorama Park in North Vancouver. The event there typically includes live music and family-friendly festivities, plus the traditional quick dip in the water.
It’s one of the Lower Mainland’s largest January 1st dips in the ocean. With its community bonfire and live band, the Deep Cove swim is also one of New Year’s Day’s most entertaining and family-friendly events most years.
Penguin Plunge 2020
Each year costume judging takes place at around 1:30 pm and the swim starts promptly at 2:00 pm. The schedule for 2020 was the same as usual.
Donations at the event benefitted a local charity. Past charity recipients include North Shore Rescue and the Royal Canadian Marine Search & Rescue. In 2020 donations went to the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue Station 2.
For the past few years, entertainment for the day has been provided by Gary Comeau & the Voodoo Allstars which is a great local band. They were also scheduled to perform in 2020.
For more information about the event, click North Vancouver Penguin Plunge.
Port Moody Penguin Plunge
The Penguin Plunge is an annual event that takes place on New Year’s Day by the pier at Rocky Point Park at 2800 Murray Street.
The Port Moody Penguin Plunge is a fundraising event for the Pleasantside Community Association. The cost for swimming participants is $5 per person, or $10 per family, with proceeds benefiting the community.
This event was cancelled in 2021 and 2022, but is set to return on January 1st in 2023. Registration begins at 11:30 am and the swim happens at 1 o’clock.
Click Port Moody Penguin Plunge for more information.
Delta Polar Bear Swim
The Delta Polar Bear Swim takes place at Boundary Bay Regional Park at 541 Centennial Parkway in Tsawwassen. The event was cancelled in 2021 and probably didn’t happen in 2022. Luckily, the swim returns on Sunday, January 1st in 2023.
Registration for the city’s annual event is at noon and participants hit the water at 1:00 pm. In 2023 there’s entertainment to enjoy starting at 11:45 am, including face painting, a drum circle and more. Hot chocolate is also available.
At the Boundary Bay Polar Bear Swim there are prizes for top swimmers. Awards are usually given to the oldest participant and the swimmer traveling to the event from the farthest distance.
For further details click Delta Polar Bear Swim.
South Surrey Polar Bare Swim
The Polar Bare Plunge at Crescent Rock is a January 1st swim that’s different from all of the rest. Hosted by Surrey’s United Naturists, it’s a polar “bare” swim because it’s clothing optional.
Crescent Rock Beach is a stretch of shoreline located just south of the main beach at Crescent Beach in South Surrey. It can be accessed via the Christopherson Steps at the end of 24th Avenue at 2409 Christopherson Road.
Crescent Rock Beach has been an informal clothing-optional beach for many years. The Polar Bare Swim there has been running for 15 years. On January 1st in 2023 it happens at 1:00 pm by the 120-tonne Crescent Rock boulder. Free registration starts at 12:30.
Although this is a skinny dipping event, participants are also encouraged to wear costumes like Santa Claus toques, body paint and other accessories. Footwear is also recommended because of the rocks on the beach.
Fort Langley Polar Bear Swim
The annual polar swim in Fort Langley celebrated its sixth season in 2019 at the beach on Brae Island Regional Park across the water from the village. The swimming usually starts at noon and finishes very soon after.
(Note: The Fort Langley event is more informal than other similar events in the Lower Mainland. There isn’t an official website and there doesn’t appear to be a formal organization behind the event, or at least not one that we can identify. Consequently it is unclear whether the event happens every single year or not. We’re guessing it didn’t take place in 2022. Details about the event in 2023 are to be confirmed.)
Unlike other similar events elsewhere in the Lower Mainland, the Fort Langley swim is pretty informal. There are no official sponsors, organizer, registration process, charitable beneficiary or fees. The swim is also in the river as opposed to the ocean, and in some years there has actually been ice on the water.
The Fort Langley Polar Bear Swim began in 2014 with a group of friends wanting a New Year’s Day swim but without having to drive across the Lower Mainland to an official existing venue. The event has continued since then and attracts dozens of swimmers and hundreds of onlookers.
Click The Abbotsford News for an article about the event and photos.
Squamish Polar Bear Swim
Organized by local members of the community, the Squamish Polar Bear Swim usually takes place at Sp’akw’us Feather Park. The event was cancelled in 2021 because of COVID-19. It returned in 2022, but because of construction at the regular location, the event was held at Porteau Cove Provincial Park.
In 2023 the Squamish Polar Bear Swim is happening at Porteau Cove once again. The swim starts at exactly 12:00 pm on Sunday, January 1st. Everyone is encouraged to bring footwear to swim in because of the gravel and rocks.
For more information visit the Squamish Polar Bear Swim Facebook page.
Polar Bear Advice
Below is some advice for people planning to attend one of the Lower Mainland’s New Year’s Day swims.
Tips for Swimmers
- Wear a costume – you’ll have more fun and probably be a degree or two warmer than if you swim in just your trunks or bikini!
- Swim with a buddy – take the plunge with a group. It’s safer and these sorts of “experiences” are best when shared with friends.
- Bring warm clothes and don’t forget your towel! – the water is freezing so you’ll want to dry off and warm up quickly after your dip. And yes, every year, at least one person forgets to bring their towel!
- Swim only if you’re healthy – if you have heart issues, just watch!
- Don’t stay in too long – we probably don’t need to say this, but get in and out fairly quickly! Stay in the water for 15 minutes or more and chances are good you’ll get hypothermia!
Tips for Onlookers
- Bring your camera! – this is a fun event to watch and no doubt your swimming friends will want photo souvenirs of the experience.
- Go! – even if you don’t know anyone that’s swimming, if the weather is good go check out the event. It’s fun to watch!
- Dress warmly!
- Go early! – whether you plan to swim or are just going to watch, give yourself plenty of time to get there and find parking (or take public transit if you can). Thousands of people attend so parking in the area can be a serious challenge. Be prepared to park far away and then walk to the beach (so take good walking shoes).
Information on Other Events
For ideas on New Year’s Eve events, click Vancouver New Year’s Celebrations.
To see what else is happening early in the year, see Vancouver’s January Calendar.
For a list of other events at different times of the year, see Vancouver’s Festivals & Events Calendar.