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6,000 people mark Vancouver Polar Bear Swim 100th anniversary

Last Updated Jan 1, 2020 at 3:34 pm PDT

A Polar Bear Swim participant poses for a photo in the water off English Bay. (Ash Kelly/NEWS 1130 photo)

The Vancouver Polar Bear Swim marked its 100th anniversary

More than 6,000 people registered to take the icy plunge

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – A century of tradition was behind Wednesday’s New Year’s Day Polar Bear Swim in English Bay as thousands of people kicked off the year with the annual chilly dip.

The plunge in the ocean began in 1920 when Greek immigrant George Pantages bet seven of his friends to join him in the water.

“I think (the Polar Bear Swim) was a tip of the hat to the Island of Andros, which he immigrated from,” his granddaughter, Lisa Pantages said. “I think it was just his own personal challenge. He loved the ocean.”

Pantages died of heart attack, while swimming in Hawaii in the 1970s. Lisa is now the proud president of the Polar Bear Swim.

“I personally have a great sense of pride for the fact that this is one of the longest traditions in Vancouver and around the world,” Pantages said. “I also just think for many Vancouverites, we have very few traditions historically in our city and this is one that people really embrace.”

A blanket of clouds and 12 degree weather greeted this year’s participants as they raced towards the water. Many wore colourful costumes to mark the occasion, and even took multiple dips.

From first timers to those celebrates decades of the tradition, more than 6,000 people registered to take the plunge.