Splashing into 2016 with the annual polar bear dip

South Okanagan residents take the plunge into Okanagan Lake on New Year's Day.

Standing on the snow-covered beach in a purple bathing suit, pink skirt, furry knee-high boots and shivering to stay warm, Celeste Crill was ready to take the New Year’s Day plunge.

For three years now the 12-year-old KVR Middle School student from Penticton had wanted to join the 100-plus participants so this year she got her chance at the 31st annual Summerland Kinsmen Polar Bear Dip.

“Nobody talked me into it, I just kind of thought that it would be fun,” said Crill, whose legs were gradually turning the colour of her bathing suit. “Even though it’s freezing, I guess I’m kind of crazy but crazy in a good way.”

Kinsmen Club president and organizer Mike Petkau estimated as many as 150 people braved the −7 degrees celsius temperature for the mass start.

Most were quicker to exit with some barely touching the water on the way out racing to the warming bonfires blazing randomly on the Sun-Oka Beach.

The spectators, some claiming to have more common sense than their frosty, frolicking friends and family members, outnumbered the dippers by about three to one.

“I’m hoping I don’t die today,” said Aleah Nesdoly, who was taking part for the very first time. “Just for the fun of it.”

Shivering, wrapped in a towel and warming himself by one of the fires, Colin MacKay said, “It was cold, that’s all I can say.”

Participating for the third time and describing it as “numbing,” Martina Agur said. “I think it’s fun to do. It kind of wakes you up and energizes you.” She also had some advice for those considering the challenge next year. “Wear shoes,” she said. “Your feet will thank you.”

University student Matthew Koster, from Penticton, and some friends decided it would be a good way to kick off the New Year.

“It was cold enough to take your breath away,” he said after his unceremonious exit.

For Bev Krieger and her family the event has become somewhat of a tradition.

“We come down every year, kids, girlfriends, my niece and nephew,” she said.

“My sister comes from Prince George. We’ve been doing it for 20 years. I’m 60 now and I’m going to keep doing it until I’m 70.”

Entering the water held special significance for Brianna Smith.

“My grandpa and I actually said we were going to do it every year and we never did,” she said. “We would always come down and watch everybody go in. He passed away in March, so I decided to do it this year for him.”

Summerland Mayor Peter Waterman was one of the spectators.

“I think this is the biggest attendance we’ve had in a number of years,” he said. “Cars are lined up well outside the gates.”

Perhaps one of the reasons for such success was due to some changes the Kinsmen Club made.

“We hoped to generate more income this year,” said Petkau. “We’ve advertised more and updated our logos.”

Petkau also explained that this year there was a suggested price for the amount of the donation given for a T-shirt, hot dog or hot chocolate.

In total about $1,200 in donations were raised and there was another $2,000 contributed by businesses to cover the costs of t-shirts and prizes.

“Anything that needs to be done in the community … if there is a need we will try and fill it,” Petkau said.


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