Jan 132011

Polar Bear Swim, Blackrock Beach, Halifax, January 2011

Last weekend, Jacob and friends from the University of King’s College ran across the city to the ocean and went for a swim. (Yes, Canadians swim in the ocean year-round. It’s a hard country. You find pleasure where you can.) Then they ran miles back. I looked at the photo on the right and complained that there wasn’t any snow. This could be mid-summer! Here’s what he wrote back.


A Letter from Halifax
By Jacob Glover


There isn’t any snow because it’s a beach in Halifax. The snow is only the sidewalks and roads… you’re just going to have to trust me because there aren’t any pictures of us running in it. Also, Evey Hornbeck took the pictures. People weren’t really saying anything other than either it was cold or they’d been in colder, so not really interesting things.

This is the picture of me post-polar dip. Twenty of us (3 girls and 17 boys) had run down to Blackrock Beach in Point Pleasant Park near the harbour on January 8th afternoon so that we could strip down and then submerge ourselves into the freezing North Atlantic to embrace more fully our Polar Selves. The run was more a slog than anything else, since in Halifax when it snows any byway paved with cement or asphalt is immediately covered in slush. The air wasn’t that cold, about 32 ̊ F, and the wind calmed slightly to allow us safe passage, it seemed. The run took 25 minutes, but dressed in sweatpants, two fleeces and your green winter coat, I was quite toasty by the time we arrived at the beach.

Before the swim. Jacob is front row right in the green coat.

As soon as we hit sand, people began to strip down to underwear or shorts, baring as much skin as possible. After pulling off all 12 layers of clothes, I walked slowly through the cold sand, so cold in fact that it actually hurt a little, and at the water’s edge, this is the ocean, let me repeat, I put my foot in to test the water which was about 41 ̊ F. To put this temperature in perspective for you, Wikipedia says that someone in 50 ̊ F water will die in an hour. Needless to say at the first touch of the water my whole foot was numb, so I pulled it out and reconsidered my position. It was decided though, by some far off Fate-source, that my destiny was to swim in the ocean that rather bleak day in January. So I took a few steps back and reached out for Fate’s hand in the form of white caps and salty-sea spray, as I berserkered off the edge of the continent.

The water was cold. It was really cold. And after diving under and coming back up I opened my mouth to roar something barbaric and Yawp-like, but the extreme temperature had robbed my lungs of air and movement; the paralytic cold had leeched into my diaphragm and sapped my yawping strength. I fled from this evil violent cold to my towel and dry clothes on the beach. But as I stood toweling off, surfing my eyes over the gray lonely water to McNabs Island in the distance, it occurred to me that, yes, I had just swum in the ocean in January, and, honestly, it had been unbearably cold but  extremely fun.

Love you


—Jacob Glover. Photos by Evey Hornbeck.

  6 Responses to “Letter from Halifax: Jacob does the Polar Bear in the North Atlantic”

  1. Omygod. Madness really does run in families.

  2. I repeat Vivian: OHMYGOD!!!! Although I can definitely see the appeal.
    I wonder what Fede’s mom would say???

  3. I’m shivering in Florida right now, so I REALLY can’t imagine. A well-written account, however, of something I’m fairly sure I’ll never experience willingly in this life. Thanks!

  4. “Berserker[ing] off the edge of the continent” is wonderful image! I guess I’m not a real Canadian (seeing as I grew up in Bermuda) cuz high 60s F is about my limit for a swim.

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