Edition 28 December, by Bárbara Luque
How crazy do you need to be to enjoy a dive into the freezing North Sea waters in the middle of Winter? Just Dutch crazy! Wearing a bathing suit, gloves and a Dutch orange winter hat (you know, they wouldn’t want to get too cold), thousands of people run into the water to celebrate the start of the new year, in what is known as the annual ‘Nieuwjaarsduik’, translated as New Year’s Dive. It remains a mystery why exactly someone would enjoy jumping into the water in such temperatures, but that hasn’t stopped it from being the annual thing-to-do on January 1. Are you willing to try it?
History of the New Year’s Dive
Although it’s now considered ‘Dutch’, New Year’s dives date 1920s Canada, where ten members of the Vancouver Polar Bear Swim Club, organized by Peter Pantages, started taking a refreshing dive on New Year’s Day. It wasn’t until 1960 that the Netherlands had its first dive in Zandvoort, organized by Ok van Batenburg and members of the swimming team Njord ’59 from Haarlem. In 1965, the first dive in Scheveningen attracted seven people. Nowadays, a total of 125 locations across the Netherlands are designated every year as official diving spots, with Scheveningen the favorite for both participants and crowds to attend. Most of the events are organized on beaches of the North Sea, but many inland dives take place on lakes, rivers and even canals. In 2014, 10,000 people took part in the dive just in Scheveningen, with around 46,000 participating in the other official locations in the Netherlands. This was mainly due to the amount of national attention the dives started receiving after 1998, when Unox, a big soup brand, joined the game as a sponsor. From that moment, the number of participants and locations has increased year by year, making it a massive event. The Scheveningen dive is still the largest New Year’s Dive event. It’s safe to say that since that first splash back in 1960, the dives have become increasingly popular, and a tradition across the country has been created.
The Dutch way
In many other countries the tradition also exists, but there’s not one that can match the total of diving sites and participants that the Netherlands gets. There are even foreigners traveling to the country just to take part in the freezing dive. How about that for a holiday plan? The sponsors’ main job is to provide the divers with branded swimming caps and winter hats. Most of the official events are sponsored by Unox, which gives every participant a goodie bag with a winter hat, a souvenir voucher and a special edition can of pea soup to warm up after the heroic dive. Also provided are trained lifeguards and a filming crew to capture every moment of cold regret. The soup company charges €3 for participation in the Scheveningen event, of which €1 will go to food banks this year. Given that the number of participants is estimated to be between 7,000 and 10,000 per event, major security measures must be taken. The fire brigade, along with the police, rescue brigade, health services and the municipality, have every spot covered in order to ensure the safety of all participants and attendees. Due to safety concerns, in 2007, for the first and only time, the official event was canceled in some locations due to advice from the emergency service, who wanted to prevent health problems because of algae, cloudy water and extremely cold weather. Aside from the New Year’s Dive, winter swimming is another (crazy) activity practiced by the Dutch. For a swim to be considered “winter”, the water should have a maximum temperature of 5 degrees Celsius, but in some locations the temperature gets even lower and participants basically swim through ice.
How to survive the New Year’s dive
If you’re into welcoming 2019 with a cold splash, and you can imagine yourself running towards the sea in freezing temperatures wearing nothing but your bathing suit (hello, winter body!), there’s some tips you might want to consider ahead of time:
• Guarantee your spot. To guarantee your place, you must either sign up beforehand, or arrive early at the location, as many of them have a maximum number of participants.
• Take fitness into account. According to the rescue brigade, you must be fit to take the dive. Otherwise, there may be a risk for yourself, other divers or aid workers. If during or after the dive you start feeling unwell, immediately go to the emergency services present at the spot.
• Brace for impact. While waiting for the starting signal, make sure to get your body ready for the cold swim with a good warmup. Also, keep your clothes on as long as possible before the dive.
• Keep your ideas warm. Be sure to wear your (sponsored) winter beanie during your swim; this will keep your head from losing too much heat. If possible, also wear gloves and something on your feet (anything helps at this point).
• Back from the cold. Health services recommend not to get dressed immediately after coming out of the sea. You should dry yourself completely with a towel, then put on a bathrobe and something on your feet. After ten minutes, you can dress warmly. Finally, do yourself a favor, go look for the warm pea soup and enjoy being warm again.
It is good to know that the dive is for all ages, although you should be warned that children under 12 have a greater risk of hypothermia. For this reason, people with children are advised to dive into the water on either side of the mass of people running towards the sea. This way it’s easier to ensure children’s safety at all times. Also, be aware that the event might get cancelled in case of strong winds, strong currents, high waters, low temperatures or a combination of these. So be sure to check the event’s web page a day prior to the event and even on the day itself for possible cancellations.
Where to go
New Year’s dives are organized in many different locations around the Netherlands. Here’s a list of the most popular spots for you to either dive into 2019, or just go and watch from the sidelines the amazing spectacle that is a mass of shivering people entering the cold water. You can find all locations on unox.nl/evenementen-detail/
North Sea beaches
Wijk aan Zee
Egmond aan Zee
Bergen aan Zee
Wadden Sea islands
Usually, the starting time of all the New Year’s Dives is at 13.00 or 14.00 h. You can check out the Unox official website to see all official locations around the country. Nudist New Year’s Dive If you’re up for an even bigger risk, you could go splash in the Nudist New Year’s Dive. The most popular sites for these dives are: North Holland (Twiske in Oostzaan), South Holland (Natuurkreek), Zeeland (Vrouwenpolder), North Brabant (Galderse Meren), Gelderland (Sauna Wellness Winterswijk) and Flevoland (Flevonatuur). There’s always something for everyone. Overall, the New Year’s Dive is the best way to welcome the new year in the Netherlands. No matter what your reason to take part in this tradition, whether it’s getting sponsored for proceeds that go to charity, a crazy experience for friends or family, or just looking for a fresh (or freezing) start for 2019, there’s no question you’ll come out of those waters as a brave hero who has conquered the amazing Dutch tradition that is