Most years, Zhi Dong Yu would be at the front of the pack, ready to jump into the chilly waters of English Bay on New Year’s Day.

But this year, the event has gone virtual to discourage people from congregating at one location.

That’s why his family has taken him for a swim at a local pool in Richmond.

“I really miss swimming in the ocean,” Yu said in an interview in Mandarin, which was later translated. “I understand with the pandemic situation that I can still do my regular swimming here at the pool.”

Friday marks his 21st Polar Bear Dip and this year, his 88th birthday falls on Jan. 1, according to the lunar calendar.

“So it makes it extra special,” said his daughter Kehua Yu Anderson. “We always said we want to join him in the polar bear event, but it is so cold in the ocean, we only watched over the years, never joined him. This year, it actually gives us the opportunity to join him in the pool.”

Bathtubs, kiddie pools and lakes

People all over are finding ways to participate in the digital dip.

The Vancouver Park Board has encouraged people to use the hashtag #PBPOLARBEARDIP2021 to show how they are keeping the spirit of the dip alive.

“I think that the tradition of the Polar Bear Swim is really important to people. I think they love embracing the fun of it and even though it's a bit different this year, everybody's learned how to adapt to keep that in their worlds,” said Lisa Pantages, president of the Polar Bear Swim Club and the founder’s granddaughter.

People have been sharing on social media how they are taking a “swim” in a bathtub filled with ice, standing in a kiddie pool while frigid water is poured over them, or going for a quick dip in a lake or pond.

Pantages said her grandfather’s vision for the event was to bring people together, and even though people are told to stay apart, it still manages to maintain the camaraderie.

“I think that in their hearts, tradition was the most important thing to put into action in their community, just to keep their community close and I think that this swim today is a way that we still hold onto that,” she said.

To participate in this year's plunge, swimmers are encouraged to register online

Registered swimmers will get a certificate after the event and anyone who emails in a photo or video of their participation will get a commemorative button.