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 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.
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 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.
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 usually from 2:30 until 3:30 pm. It’s a free event, although participants must fill out a registration form which includes a waiver of liability.
The event starts with a 100 yard dash to the water and finishes with lots of frozen people. Participants are encouraged to dress in costume and everyone has tons of fun!
Click Vancouver Polar Bear Swim for more information.
Penguin Plunge in Deep Cove
The Deep Cove Penguin Plunge traditionally runs from 12:30 until around 3:00 pm at Panorama Park in North Vancouver. The event there 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.
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 benefit 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 on the event, click North Vancouver Penguin Plunge.
White Rock Polar Bear Swim
The Polar Bear Plunge in White Rock is hosted by the Rotary Clubs of White Rock & South Surrey. In its 48th year, in 2018 the swimming started at noon and ran for about an hour (although nobody stays in the water for anywhere near that full length of time).
The plan was for the 2019 event to be similar, but, unfortunately, due to damage to the White Rock Pier by a wind storm in late December 2018, the swim scheduled for January 1st that year was cancelled.
Fortunately the White Rock event happened again in 2020! At the swim registration for participants took place starting at around 10:30 am and the plunge happened at 12:00 pm.
For more information click White Rock Polar Bear Swim.
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. Registration begins at 11:30 am and the swim happens at 1 o’clock.
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 programs run by the organization.
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. Registration for the city’s 40th annual event is at noon and participants hit the water at 1:00 pm.
At the Boundary Bay Polar Bear Swim there are prizes for top swimmers, the oldest participant and the swimmer traveling to the event from the farthest distance. There is also usually a draw for prizes with the grand prize in being tickets for four to a Vancouver Canucks’ hockey game or something comparable. Hopefully the prizes will be similar in 2021.
For further details click Delta Polar Bear Swim.
Fort Langley Polar Bear Swim
The annual polar swim in Fort Langley celebrates 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 vent, or at least not one that we can identify. Consequently it is unclear whether the event will be taking place again this year or not. It probably will, just like it did last year, but we won’t know for sure likely until it actually happens.)
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.
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.