The day was ideally suited for a swim in the ocean — that is, if you don’t mind feeling like a thousand tiny needles are pricking your skin.
As several dozen enthusiastic participants in the annual Metchosin polar bear swim raced toward the chilly waters off Taylor Beach on New Year’s Day, the bright sunshine was doing little to bring warmth to the situation.
Once they reached their destination, some stayed in the water for a stretch, a few dunked their heads under the surface and still others dashed back to dry land, where their warm towels and jackets awaited.
Metchosin resident Mike Van Dewater is a regular at this event, having participated in “10 at least.” Plunging into the ocean in near-freezing temperatures is like “washing away the sins,” he said. “It’s a great way to start the year fresh.”
Michelle Maffia of Colwood, making her second trip to Taylor Beach for the polar bear swim, was one of those who took a full dunk. Doing so was invigorating, she said.
“If you’re going to go, you’ve gotta go all the way,” she added.
Langford resident Dan McKean was one of the last out of the water. A veteran of 13 New Year’s Day swims over the years, he was making his fifth appearance at the Metchosin event.
“When I moved to Victoria I had to find a new swim to join,” he recalled, adding that this community oriented event filled the bill nicely.
Co-organizer Andy MacKinnon, a District of Metchosin councillor, was all smiles before heading up to the after-gathering he and wife Mairi host at their home for swimmers and spectators alike.
Having surveyed the scene, he estimated that this was the largest turnout in the event’s 28-year history, and perhaps broadest age range yet.
“It was fantastic. We had a terrific crowd of people out, the water was suitably chilly and it’s a riotous, good way to start the new year,” he said. “We get an exceptional bunch of people who’ll come out and throw themselves in the ocean on January first — a lot of friends and a lot of people who are back here multiple times.”
Asked whether the cancellation of the Elk Lake polar bear swim (due to algae blooms) might have boosted the numbers, MacKinnon said there might have been a couple of extra people here.
“But I think for the most part these are good friends from Metchosin and it remains and important community event here.”
Among the brave souls getting into the spirit of community was local musician Jesse Roper, whose usual Jan. 1 tradition is to take a dip In Matheson Lake.
“It’s warmer in the ocean,” he said. “Matheson’s actually iced over right now.”