Every year you see them on New Year’s Day, alighting from vans and other vehicles in crazy costumes, only to run screaming down the boat ramp and splashing into the frigid waters of the Somass River.
They are the Kinsmen, and this year they will be back again for their unofficial polar bear swim, 2 p.m. on New Year’s Day at Clutesi Haven Marina.
This year their costumes will be “1960s style,” club spokesperson Keith Gagnon said.
He heard a rumour that the Alberni District Secondary School dry grad committee has a challenge going, and will also be at the marina for their own “swim”.
“We’ve been looking forward to it. We heard it’s going to be a good turnout.”
The Gyro Club used to run a sanctioned event every year at the marina but dropped it a few years ago when both the effort and the liability became too great. The Kinsmen have continued to hold their own swim, although it is not sanctioned, not insured—and they’re not responsible for who joins them, Gagnon said.
Gagnon has spoken with the wharf manager, Mike Carter, and the Coast Guard Auxiliary will be on hand with their rescue boat as they always are, just in case someone gets into trouble in the water.
“Even though it’s the unofficial friends of the Kinsmen polar bear swim, it’s ‘swim at your own risk’,” he said. “And wear appropriate foot gear.”
The Kinsmen have been reluctant to take over the event because they have many other events in December, but it’s a possibility.
Gagnon is hopeful that polar bear swim stalwart Jim Rutherford, who is 95 this year, will be able to extend his streak and at least dip his toes in the water.
“Last year we had to help him in,” Gagnon said.
Gagnon’s daughter will participate in the swim along with other Kin Kids. “My 11-year-old started when she was seven and I have to keep up with her,” Gagnon said.
There is plenty of room for people to come and watch the Kinsmen and other polar bear regulars. The swimmers will hit the water around 2 p.m., and the whole thing will be over quickly.