June 18, 2016, marks the 42nd annual Polar Bear Swim, celebrated in Nome, Alaska. Unlike many places in the USA’s lower 48 states (and Hawaii, of course), where taking a dip in the middle of June is a pleasure, splashing in the Bering Sea is not for the faint of heart.
The water is barely above freezing. In fact, in some years, the swim has been rescheduled because the ice hasn’t broken up enough to allow participants to wade in from Nome’s East End Beach. (Rush in and rush right back out is a more accurate description.)
The Polar Bear Swim is part of the Midnight Sun Festival, held in Nome during its summer solstice, when the sun shines 22 hours of the day. Other festival events include the Gold Dust Dash, a four-mile foot race to win a gold nugget; the Midnight Sun Parade, with prizes for the best floats; and the Midnight Sun Annual Bank Robbery, a mock holdup of Wells Fargo Bank at high noon by gunslinging outlaws.
At 2 pm, roughly 100 people are expected to brave the icy water in bikinis, Speedos and various costumes. A bonfire will be built on the beach so everyone can warm up quickly after leaving the water. All swimmers will receive a certificate of achievement and join the ranks of people who’ve taken the plunge since 1975.
Whether it sounds like a rollicking good time or makes you want to dive under an electric blanket, there’s no doubt Nome’s Polar Bear Swim is a wacky holiday to rival Canada’s International Hair Freezing Day.
So jump in and tell your friends, “Come on in, the water’s f-f-f-freezing!”