Whether he will adorn a unicorn costume or dress as a pirate, 35-year-old Fort Langley resident Darian Kovacs will once again be taking an invigorating dip in the Fraser River – fully clothed – tomorrow.
“I haven’t decided quiet yet what it’s going to be,” said the founder of Langley’s annual polar bear swim. “It will be whatever I can take off the quickest.”
Kovacs is in and out of the Fraser River a few times a week with his family during the summer months. But, typically he only steps foot in the water once during the colder seasons – for the Jan. 1 polar bear swim, which is happening at the Brae Island Park Sunday at noon.
This New Year’s Day traditional started out four years ago, when he was struck by a hankering to participate in his first-ever polar bear swim.
Since Kovacs was unwillingness to drive into Vancouver or White Rock to reach the sandy beaches of the ocean, he and a few buddies opted to do something impromptu, closer to home.
The Fort Langley resident and business owner and two of his buddies, Eric and Brian, chose instead to threw themselves into the freezing water of Bedford Channel.
“I love not having to leave my hometown,” Kovacs said. “And, it’s so much fun.”
That first-time Fort Langley dip was a relatively quiet event – just the three guys venturing into the water, while their wives watched from the shoreline “as we braved the cold.”
In subsequent years, the New Year’s Day tradition in Fort Langley has grown in popularity. It drew about 60 participants in year two. Then, last year attendance jumped to 170 people.
“It’s been growing steadily every year,” Kovacs said. “I think that it’s the idea of the more the merrier… there’s are real sense of camaraderie, of community… with all these people there egging you on to jump into the freezing cold,” he said.
Kovacs doesn’t even want to hazard a guest as to how many people might venture out tomorrow.
He does believe that participation in this year’s event will be even bigger than ever before – depending on weather. He attributes the potential increase to word of mouth, media attention, and the new involvement of the Trading Post Brewing Company.
“They’ve embraced the dip” and will be providing hot coffee and tea during a family-friendly after party back at their Glover Road eatery. That’s definitely making it a more alluring “unofficial” event, said the father of three young children.
This is not technically a community event. There’s no set organizer. No set schedule. No admission. No official rules.
It’s just a group of people who all choose to come together at the same time, in the same location for a fun, exhilarating New Year’s Day tradition.
Some may be there in hopes of curing a hangover from the night before, Kovacs acknowledges. For others like him, who is spending a quiet night at home cuddled up playing board games with is wife and children, the swim maybe just as a way to kick off the new year in style.
Whatever the motivation, he said “it’s a good excuse to get everyone outdoors for the first day of the year.”
For he and his family, it’s become a ritual he’s excited to keep repeating.
While his wife Rose has yet to venture into the water, and this year she will again watch from the sidelines while keeping hold of their one and two-year-old children, Kovacs hasn’t given up hope that one day Rose will give it a try.
In the meantime, their 10-year-old son Caedmon, will be taking the plunge with Dad, again.
He’s been part of the event for the past few years, and thanks to a short wet suit, Caedmon is able to brave the elements – albeit it briefly.
From personal experience
Speaking from experience, Kovacs offered a few tips for newbies wanting to be part of this year’s polar bear swim in Fort Langley.
The event is being held at exactly noon at the beach at the Brae Island Regional Park – everyone diving in when a large bell is rung.
To avoid being late, he encourages people arrive early – by at least 11:30 a.m. Some parking is available in the park, the rest will have to park along the street, and might be a bit of a trek – depending on weather conditions.
Again, in part because of weather, he advises people to watch for icy conditions on the short and the edges of the river.
He encourages people to dress warmly for their time on shore, and suggests they have a large robe or big towel waiting on the shore when they get out.
There are washrooms on site, where people can change before and/or after the swim, if necessary.
Many participants wear fun costumes. Last year, for instance, Township of Langley Mayor Jack Froese wore a mock business suit, while there was a small flock of if penguins in attendance, and a few others adorned fun costumes.
The biggest tidbit of advise Kovacs could offer, was to jump in and out, relatively quickly.
“It’s more of an experience, not an endurance challenge,” he said. “It’s about coming and having fun.”