It was a dip even the penguins would be proud of.
After a last-minute location change back to Balls Beach from Queen’s Royal Beach, about 30 participants ventured into the frigid waters of the Niagara River for the annual Niagara-on-the-Lake Boxing Day Penguin Dip.
“It takes a lot of courage,” said Rachel Saylor, who has participated in the dip 10 times.
“I think the best strategy is in and out and knowing that it’s done in like, 15 minutes,” she said. An official dip requires three plunges.
Saylor was part of the group of penguins in the over-30 category.
“There’s something special about getting together with a big group of people and doing something crazy,” she said.
Before they had a chance to change their minds, about 16 people from the under-30 cohort jogged out of a trailer and down the snowy path – in nothing but bathing suits and goosebumps.
Dozens of supporters were bundled up in warm winter clothing along the rocky beach, cheering on the braver souls as they made their first trip down to the near-freezing water.
Several of the human penguins screamed as they stepped into the icy river. The air temperature was about -2C at the time and one observer estimated the water was about 4C.
Each dipper jumps in three times, but everyone gets to warm up in the trailer in between adventures.
Owen Demers came to his first Penguin Dip thinking he was only jumping in once.
As he warmed up and dried off after his final dip, his hands were red and trembling.
He described the icy experience as refreshing and advises newbies to “just go out and have fun.”
As light snow softly fell, Moe Bjorgan collected donations for Red Roof Retreat and his brother Chris Bjorgan, one of the event’s organizers, was getting ready for the dip.
Every year the dip collects money for Red Roof Retreat, a respite service for parents of kids and young adults with special needs.
Moe Bjorgan knows what it’s like to take the cool plunge. “It’s actually so cold it burns,” he said.
After doing the dip 15 times previously, Moe was happy that his son Owen is carrying on the tradition.
This was the 47th year of the dip.
“It was wonderful. It’s great. It’s always a good experience,” said Westen Macintosh, as water dripped into the snow at his feet.
Macintosh is from Niagara-on-the-Lake, but now lives in the United Kingdom. He’s done the dip five times.
“Every year it gets easier,” he joked, adding, “No, it gets worse every year.”
“But it’s lots of fun,” he said.
Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa and deputy mayor Erwin Wiens were on hand as spectators. Would they ever consider taking the cool dunk? A unanimous “no” was the answer.
Wiens joked he might consider it if Zalepa did it first.
“It’s like a hockey fight. When you’re watching them, they’re great,” Wiens said, happy to be cool but dry on the sidelines.
With files from Evan Loree.