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Polar plunge attracts hundreds in Prince Rupert, with no sharks spotted, organizers said

Rotary’s annual Polar Bear Dip event was back after a three-year pandemic hibernation

Swimmers were out of the water as fast as some went in at the annual polar plunge hosted by the Rotary Club of Prince Rupert in partnership with the Port Edward Harbour Authority on Jan. 1.

The crowd numbered more than 300 participants and spectators at the 43 annual New Year’s day event at Rushbrook Floats.

The polar bear event was in full splash mode after a three-year pandemic hibernation, with the last event in January 2020, right before COVID-19 shut down public activities.

The polar bear dip started in 1978 with some of the first four swimmers still around today, Doug Kydd, Rotary club executive member said, naming Gary Brunelle, Terry Garon, Don Hemmons and Bill Pickering as the daredevils who started the epic event in Prince Rupert 45 years ago. This was long before some of the youngest participants’ parents were born.

Mason Bahm and Ethan Malthus have been best buds for six years — most of their lives, they told The Northern View.

“Me and Nathan did this a few years ago and thought it was really fun, so we try to do it every year together. It’s exciting,” Malthus said.

The ten-year-olds first time taking the plunge was in 2019 when Mason had an adventure that he and Ethan were proud to tell with their youthful exuberance.

“I almost drowned … I was seven and me and Ethan were jumping off the dock. I fell and I didn’t know how to swim at that time, so I tried to grab onto the boards but they were too slippery,” Bahm recounted, adding the experience was exciting and hadn’t put him off the event.

Also, a first-time polar bear dipper was Danny Atehortua, who arrived in Prince Rupert from Columbia ten months ago as a new immigrant. He has been embracing Canadian customs one by one as opportunities arise. Asked why he would participate in such a chilly event, he said, “I love Prince Rupert. It’s my first polar bear dip.”

His wife, Joanne Tangrife, said it was too cold for her and she thought he was “crazy.”

“I said O.K. honey, if you want to do it, do it, but I’m just watching,” she said.

During the event, Kydd addressed the crowd informing them the water was an almost equal temperature to the air around of 7.5 C.

“So the conditions are almost perfect for this crazy event,” he said, adding the record temperature in recent years was 2013 with a “toasty” 9.3 C.

Rotary Club thanked sponsors and food providers Save-On-Foods and Tim Hortons for the hotdogs and drinks, as well as the emergency services personnel from BC Ambulance, RCMP and SARS for standing by to offer aid if needed.

“There have been no shark sightings in the area for the past 24 hours and probably longer, so swimmers should be safe,” Kydd joked just before hundreds of swimmers took the plunge.