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The Penguin Plunge in Port Moody is back

The New Year's Day tradition was scuttled by COVID-19 public health restrictions the past two years
David Stuart makes sure the mascot for the Penguin Plunge scheduled for New Year's Day at Rocky Point Park is looking its best after two years away because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The craziest thing you do on New Year’s Day (Jan. 1) might also be the most normal.

The Penguin Plunge is back at Port Moody’s Rocky Point Park for the first time since 2020.

David Stuart, the president of the Pleasantside Community Association that’s organized the event since it began in the 1970s, said the lunacy of running down the boat ramp and into the freezing waters of Burrard Inlet is just the kind of indicator we may need that life is returning to normal after two years of COVID-19 public health restrictions.

It was those restrictions that scuttled the last two events, putting a strain on some of the community groups like the Golden Spike Can Can dancers and seniors badminton that are based out of Old Orchard Hall.

Money raised from the $5 registration fee ($10 for families) for the plunge is used to help those groups cover costs like liability insurance, and for the past couple of years, they’ve had to go on their own.

Stuart said everyone involved with the New Year’s tradition is “naturally excited” to get back at it, from the 10 or so dedicated volunteers who do everything from serve hot chocolate and coffee to warm the chilled swimmers to corralling the foolhardy to the top of the ramp in advance of the 1 p.m. plunge time, to the bathers themselves.

“There’s a real pent-up desire.”

Stuart said starting the year with a chilly dip has a way of re-energizing you for the challenges of the year ahead. He anticipates those sensations will be amplified this time after two years of denial.

“That’s what’s so joyful,” he said. “It signals we are moving back to normal.”

Stuart said while most swimmers opt for a quick run into the water and hasty retreat back to the warmth of a fluffy towel and robe, some linger for an actual swim. Lifeguards from the city will be on hand to ensure nobody gets into trouble if they overextend their stay in the cold water.

Everyone who braves the water gets a certificate notarizing their madness — er, participation.

As for Stuart, he’s never taken the plunge himself.

Instead he opts for the comfort of the DJ table where he’s in charge of the music that helps keep everyone’s mind distracted from the feat they’re about to attempt.

“I don’t like cold water,” he said.

If you’re headed to the Penguin Plunge, here’s some survival tips from the In the Swim blog:

  • Warm up for the plunge by cooling down with a cold shower beforehand. That will help condition the body and diminish the shock from sudden immersion in the chilled water.
  • Don’t stay in the water longer than five minutes. That’s when cold water incapacitation can set in, although serious hypothermia isn’t likely to occur until an average-sized adult has been in the water for 30 minutes for more.
  • Bring a fluffy towel to get dry immediately and a warm robe or clothes, thick wooly socks and heavy sweaters for the ride home.
  • Stephen Cheung, a kinesiology professor at Brock University in Ontario who studies how the human body reacts to extreme environments, suggests a quick dash into the water is preferable to a slow stroll down the ramp to lessen the mental anxiety of getting cold.
  • And if you have a pre-existing heart condition, it’s best to enjoy the event from shore, or the pier.

Registration for the plunge begins at 11:30 a.m.