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Virtual events offer cool alternative as new year polar plunges put on ice

Many events planned for Friday have been altered to incorporate virtual elements or social distancing.

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Hundreds of bathers take part in the Courage Polar Bear Dip for World Vision in Oakville, Ontario, Canada, on New Year’s Day in 2019 (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

Hundreds of bathers take part in the Courage Polar Bear Dip for World Vision in Oakville, Ontario, Canada, on New Year’s Day in 2019 (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

Hundreds of bathers take part in the Courage Polar Bear Dip for World Vision in Oakville, Ontario, Canada, on New Year’s Day in 2019 (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

The tradition of taking an icy plunge into the ocean to ring in the new year is going to be different this time round, with plans for many events across the US and Canada changing amid the pandemic.

Organisers of many traditional “polar plunges” have resolved to stay safe on New Year’s Day instead of potentially contributing to the Covid-19 surge.

Instead, many events – often with a charitable bent – planned for Friday have been altered to incorporate virtual elements or social distancing.

At the Courage Polar Bear Dip in Lake Ontario, the largest such gathering in Canada, organisers are encouraging people to post videos of themselves being immersed in any body of ice water, including a paddling pool or bath.

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David Greenham at the annual Polar Bear Plunge in Portland, Maine, in 2011 (John Patriquin/Portland Press Herald via AP)

David Greenham at the annual Polar Bear Plunge in Portland, Maine, in 2011 (John Patriquin/Portland Press Herald via AP)

AP/PA Images

David Greenham at the annual Polar Bear Plunge in Portland, Maine, in 2011 (John Patriquin/Portland Press Herald via AP)

Even a pile of snow will suffice.

“Anything that’s cold counts!” said Jenna Courage, daughter of one of the co-founders of the event, which benefits World Vision Canada.

In Seattle, the Polar Bear Swim that normally brings hundreds to Puget Sound is different too.

Participants are being encouraged to stagger their frigid dips throughout the day, instead of a mass plunge, and they must wear masks and distance themselves along Alki Beach, said organiser Mark Ufkes.

In Maine, Special Olympics is encouraging its participants to forgo the Lobster Dip in the water at Old Orchard Beach in favour of a filmed Lobster Roll in the snow in their front gardens.

This is the year where you want to jump in, wash it off and start afresh in 2021Beth Comeau, Natural Resources Council of Maine

The best videos will be shared online.

Some organisers were foiled again by a Christmas rainstorm and warm weather that melted away 2ft of snow on the ground.

“I’ll try to be as creative as possible,” said Rocky Frenzilli, a retired school teacher who has worn a bright red lobster costume in every Lobster Dip since the first one in 1989 hosted by Portland Rugby Club.

Portland’s Polar Plunge participants are being encouraged to carry on at a place and time of their choosing instead of gathering at Portland’s East End Beach for the dip benefiting the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

They are being encouraged to share photos and videos as well.

“This is the year where you want to jump in, wash it off and start afresh in 2021,” said Beth Comeau, of the Natural Resources Council.

“It’s been a horrible, lousy year, and we want to put it behind us.”

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