The Fort Langley Polar Bear Swim ended about as quickly as it began.
All but a handful of the hundreds who splashed into the frigid Fraser River sprinted right back onto dry land to welcome the new year at noon Monday, Jan. 1.
Most ventured about chest deep before quickly returning to the sandy shores of Brae Island Beach, on the north side of the Bedford Channel.
There were a couple of brave (some might say crazy) participants who actually swam underwater and lingered a bit before coming back to shore.
Darian Kovacs, the founder of Jelly Marketing, started the Fort Langley Polar Bear Swim four years ago as a way to bring residents together for a fresh start to the year ahead.
“It really was casual — a few friends and I came in for a dip and some other people heard about it and it’s grown from there,” Kovacs said.
Last Jan. 1, more than 500 people welcomed the new year on what was by all accounts the coldest, snowiest Polar Bear swim in more than a decade.
This year’s turnout matched that number and the conditions likely had something to do with that.
Monday’s weather, at about three degrees Celsius which is near average for this time of the year, was downright agreeable.
“It’s quite sunny out and there’s no ice on the shoreline,” Kovacs mused, before he took the plunge.
Part of the swim’s appeal is its informal nature, Kovacs believes. “It’s not organized, there’s no registration, people just show up. It’s grown organically.”
The turnout, says Kovacs, illustrates that Langley and the Fraser Valley “has a lot of great young families who want to do cool and exciting things that you don’t need to go downtown for.”
Kovacs described swimming in the Fraser River in the winter “exhilarating.”
“It’s a nice, fresh start to the new year,” he said. “In a sense it’s a physical and spiritual baptism.”