Taking the plunge into 2013

Dozens brave icy waters of Okanagan Lake to usher in new year

About 100 enthusiastic participants in the annual Summerland Kinsmen Club Polar Bear Dip dash to the waters following the countdown at noon on New Year's Day at Sun-Oka Beach Provincial Park.

It was lucky 13s all around for Devon Bullock at the 28th running of the annual Summerland Kinsmen Club, New Year’s Day Polar Bear Dip.

Making not one but two trips into the frigid Okanagan Lake waters off Sun-Oka Beach, 2013 was his 13th time to take the plunge.

Clad in only a bathing suit, he revved up the large crowd of spectators with some snow angels in front of the line of the 100-plus shivering participants before dashing off to the waters edge and beyond.

“I just love it,” said Bullock afterwards as he stood steaming in the -2 C temperature beside one of two campfires on the shoreline. “Every time I do this I know that the year is going to be a good one. It’s revitalizing and it makes me feel alive, so when problems happen, you don’t feel so bad, at least you have something to compare it to.

“Happy new year.”

Although the air temperature was a little cooler than past years, the lack of wind made conditions a bit more bareable.

But just in case, there were a pair of B.C. Ambulance vehicles parked not far away and another volunteer dressed in a dry suit standing in the water for the duration of the swim.

While the numbers were about the same as the past couple of years, this time there was also a small group of people representing the Idle No More campaign just down the beach, who also went in.

First Nations drummers could be heard intermittently over the sound of the other revellers as they waited for the official countdown to begin.

That protest was born from opposition to Bill C-45 which makes changes to the Indian Act and has grown to international proportions.

But, for the majority of people, it was simply the enjoyment of the swim which brought them to the park.

This was 14-year-old Camisha Mortensen’s third year of braving the crisp waters.

“It’s just really fun,” she said before the countdown began. “Everybody thinks that it is freezing but it’s not as bad as it looks.

“I just hate waiting on the line and the hard part is knowing that you’re going to have to go in any second now.”

Allison Howard, one of the members of the costumed, Penticton-based Boa Constrictors team, was another anxious starter.

“I think being mainly crazy is the reason I’m doing this in the first place,” she said. “For some reason four years ago on my 60th birthday I thought it was a good idea and to keep it up every year until I’m 70.

“What do I look forward to the most about this? Getting back out and having the party afterwards for the survivors. We wrap up in blankets, sit by the fire and have warm drinks, that’s what I look forward to.”

The Constrictors were also the winners of the best dressed award from the Kinsmen.

A former member of the service club, Terry Michels, was back again this year with some family members for the traditional dip  — his 20th.

He too did not feel the conditions were too extreme, recalling a time when the lake had frozen over and the ice had to be broken before the dash.

Once again this year those taking part earned the right to wear the coveted Polar Bear Dip T-shirt, however, most seemed to be inclined to wait for warmer conditions to try on their prize.

And for Allison Howard, was she already looking ahead to next year?



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