Dips in the ocean in January are often part of New Year’s polar bear swims, but a group of residents brave the waters of the Salish Sea on an almost daily basis.
On January 8, with the temperature hovering at seven degrees, 10 swimmers took to the water at Willingdon Beach as part of their regular ritual. This is the second year the swimmers have been in the water, drawing between seven and 15 people each time.
Deb Calderon, one of the instigators of the daily swim, said when the idea was first floated, she thought the task was daunting; the water is cold even in the summer. However, she decided she wanted to do it and met another woman named Giselle, who suggested they give it a try. Calderon decided it would be a lot better to do with a group.
“We are all committed, it’s more fun and we physically distance,” said Calderon. “I started to go three times a week and then last year, in March, we just said we’d do it every day. We’re going in longer and we’re going in all the time.
“It’s a really great bunch and we’ve had a great time.”
She said for anyone interested in joining, the group welcomes people to come down.
When asked if she enjoys her swims, Calderon said: “I love it.”
“For the first few moments, it’s like, huh…, but when you come out, it’s a blast. Some people find it energizing but I find it calming.”
Calderon said a real bond has developed between all of the swimmers.
“It’s huge,” she said. “We invite anybody and yet the group is so cohesive. We didn’t plan it that way, it just is. It’s the water, I think.”
Willingdon Beach is an ideal location for the swimmers. The beach has lots of sand and there is no steep drop off. Swimmers can wade out easily for their swims.
Calderon said occasionally, the swimmers will go to the Beach Gardens beach, or to Powell Lake, but it’s really a second choice. The swimmers prefer the ocean.
“We just mark that place in our days and keep coming,” said Calderon.
Lyn Nicol, another of the swimmers, said the group is comprised of a close-knit group of women, and one man.
“It’s a great group to be with and we have a lot of fun,” said Nicol. “We have a lot of laughs and we’re just like kids. Coming to swim is just the best thing I’ve done during the COVID thing.
“You are in the moment more than any other time.”
Nicol said the swim has been a part of her daily life and she hasn’t missed one since July.
When asked what it is like going into the water this time of year, Nicol laughed. She then said she feels more alive than one could ever imagine. She said she believes the swim is a healthy endeavour. It’s good for anxiety, depression, one’s immune system or just pure joy, she added.
“It’s a healthy addiction,” said Nicol.
The swimmers don’t just wade in, immerse and dash back out. They usually swim for seven to 10 minutes, sometimes longer, even in the winter. They swim in the rain, the snow and even the wind.
The tides typically dictate when the swimmers gather. They like the tide to be high.
Alex Van Zwietering, the lone male, said when initially immersed, one’s body is telling one to jump out of their own skin, but as he settles in, he finds the swim calms him down.
“It dulls your panic response,” said Van Zwietering. “It takes real commitment to do it.”
He said he enjoys swimming with this group of women and the swimmers have developed a real bond.
“At first the concept of swimming in the ocean all year long was a lot scarier but it has become less scary over time and more fun,” said Van Zwietering. “When everyone is in there, everyone is smiling. We don’t know why that is but everyone is grinning when they are in the water.”