As the clocks hit 3:30 p.m. on the last day of term one classes, thousands of students rushed into the freezing Pacific for the ninth annual Polar Bear Swim. Organized by UBC party club The Calendar, the swim has become a campus tradition.
“Every single year, we've seen an increase in participation, and I think that's really awesome. Every year, more and more people are hearing about it and coming out,” said fourth-year international relations student and Calendar member Esha Mahmood.
The event took a few years to take off. At the start, very few students participated.
“I think it actually started with just the team coming down. It started with a way smaller group of people. I think the first one, if it was more than the team, it was no more than 200 kids,” said Calendar External Director Katie Dritsas.
Last year, The Calendar estimated 3,000 students took part in the swim.
“It’s a tradition. You have to do it,” said second-year computer science student Beatrice Coulvain before running into the ocean.
Sam Wise, who often comes swimming around this time of the year, said it was a lot easier to go in the water at the Polar Bear Swim than alone.
“With all the people around here, it's a big rush of adrenaline. It’s a lot easier when everybody is [here]. There’s all the hype in the air. It’s tough when you’re by yourself because you’ve got to hype yourself up,” said Wise.
When asked why she and other students came down to the beach for the Polar Bear Swim, second-year biology student Sophia Yevlash said “the break from all the exams … and its good memories. I feel like I’m in a university movie.”
Mahmood and team member Kristine Støhle accredited the popularity growth of the event mostly to social media.
Along with planning parties and recreational events for the student body, The Calendar places an emphasis on documenting social life at UBC. A team of around 80 members work together to promote events on socials and across campus.
Many students at the event said they had heard about the swim on social media. Even Støhle said a Calendar video was what initially drew her to UBC.
“As an international student, [the Polar Bear Swim was] one of the first videos that popped up when I looked up UBC before applying, and I just loved the idea of there being a tradition that everyone kind of sticks to and looks forward to.”
“[The Polar Bear Swim] is really important because it creates a united student body experience,” said Mahmood.
“It's an experience like nothing else. … That you can dump in the cold water on the last day of classes with like 5,000 UBC students. It's just so much fun.”