Monday April 21, 2014

Tips and tricks for an icy plunge

Polar Bear organizer Joe Picton guides New Year's Day swimmers
Keith Anderson

Joe Picton shows the mat he uses for swims.

There are a few tricks to surviving a Polar Bear Swim, and Joe Picton has learned all of them in the years he’s organized the annual event.

Footwear is essential, said Picton. Not just to ward off the cold, but because you never know what’s at rest on the bottom of the South Thompson River.

“Old runners or those water socks work,” Picton said Monday.

He wears earplugs when he hits the river, mainly because he doesn’t like water in his ears, he said. Some people wear swim trunks while others are clothed.

Back on snowy, dry land, Picton prefers to have a mat handy.

“I like to have something warm to stand on while I get my wet shorts off,” he said.

Which brings him to his next point: it doesn’t hurt to have a change of clothes at the ready, just in case the air is particularly cold.

“Although I’ve done it before where I’ve left the wet stuff on and gone home, no problem,” he said, adding it all depends on the weather. “Other years, it’s a different story.”

Environment Canada forecasts overcast skies and a temperature of 2 C for New Year’s Day, so Picton might not bring a warm change of clothes.

The 22nd Polar Bear Swim in Kamloops begins at noon Wednesday in Riverside Park.

Picton suggests arriving early to find a spot on the beach and chat with fellow swimmers. He recognizes several people a year from past swims, and enjoys catching up with them all.

Last year was Michelle Reith’s first Polar Bear Swim, and she used it as a springboard to try something new every day of the year.

“It’s about embracing the day and doing something different,” said Reith. “I thought it was a cool way to get that going.”

Since then, she’s flown an airplane, tried new cheeses, watched a Japanese animation festival and changed jobs. She said the swim was a way for her to open up to new things.

“It prompted me to do things I hadn’t been thinking about, and to push myself,” she said.

As for attending this year’s swim, Reith hasn’t decided. But several friends expressed interest in coming with her, so there’s a chance she will.

“I’m contemplating it,” said Reith.

About 80 people attended last year. Picton would love to see 100 come out on New Year’s Day.

He’s only missed two swims, and can’t see himself stopping.

“It’s a part of me, I guess.”

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