“No way. Absolutely not. Don’t be ridiculous. Why on earth would I want to put myself through THAT?! It sounds stupid and painful and utterly, utterly pointless. You can count me very firmly, 100%, OUT…” I say, repeatedly and decisively, for 18 months, right up until about 10 minutes before I somehow find myself Polar Plunge-ing into the icy waters of Antarctica wearing nothing but a Marks & Spencer’s bikini and a safety rope.
I am not an adrenaline junkie. When, in 2010, I jumped out of a plane (harnessed to an instructor; I’m not a complete lunatic), I only did it because I was goaded into it by my then-boyfriend. I screamed with terror for the entire 45-second freefall and sobbed with relief when my feet (or to be precise, my arse) touched solid ground again. I rarely exceed the speed limit, I loathe rollercoasters, and I’m too afraid of falling off a cliff to be a good skier. So when I booked my trip to Antarctica and read about the Polar Plunge for the first time, my immediate reaction was a very firm ‘NO’. Let the crazies do their thing; I’ll quite happily stand on the sidelines and take pictures. After all, that’s what I do best.
I did pack a bikini of course, but I was absolutely, definitely, NOT going to wear it to jump into near-freezing seawater in Antarctica. The bikini was for the hotel swimming pool in Buenos Aires, and nothing else.
So we board our expedition ship, and set sail for Antarctica, via the Falklands and South Georgia. And every time the subject of the Polar Plunge comes up, I’m firm. Yes, it might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and yes, I’ll probably never come back to Antarctica again, but no, I’m not going to do it. You might want to nearly drown and catch hypothermia at the same time, but masochism’s not my thing, ta v much. End of story. Move on.
So how exactly do I end up doing it anyway? Read on to find out…
What is the Polar Plunge?
But first, a brief explanation. The Polar Plunge, as you might have guessed, is a challenge that’s offered on a number of Arctic and Antarctic cruises. Sometimes called the Polar Jump or Polar Splash, the challenge involves jumping into the freezing sea, swimming around for as long as you can bear the pain, and then getting back out and into a dry towel as fast as humanly possible. There’s no real purpose to it, but it’s one of those slightly insane things that people do for the bragging rights. After all, how many people can say they’ve swum in the Antarctic Ocean?
What happens when you do the Antarctica Polar Plunge?
Right at the end of the voyage, on our last day in Antarctica, the captain anchors our ship in a very calm, quiet bay. The crew open the gangway that we’ve been using throughout the trip to board the zodiacs used for shore landings, and everyone who wants to do the Polar Plunge lines up in their swimwear. Those of us, including me, who have zero intention of doing anything so silly, gather on the upper deck so we can watch the shenanigans going on below.
Then, one by one, people step forward, are attached to a safety rope, and jump. Some hold their noses and plunge, others throw shapes for the photographer. Some jump in and get straight back out again, others splash around for a short while before returning to the gangplank, where they are detached from the safety rope, wrapped in a towel by a friendly crewmember, and handed a shot of vodka to warm up before heading to the hot tub or the shower.
Read More: 60+ Awesome Antarctica Photography Tips
What to wear for the Polar Plunge
If you are brave (or stupid) enough to decide you want to do it, you’ll need swimwear! For most people that was just shorts or a swimsuit, others wore a rash vest or top over their cossie. No one wore any kind of wetsuit: that rather defeats the point. On top of that, you’ll need a robe or towel to keep warm while you wait your turn… and that’s it!
How cold is the Antarctic Polar Plunge?
Short answer: cold! But also, not actually THAT cold. While the polar regions can get well into negative numbers during the winter, you’ll likely be travelling in the summertime, when temperatures hover around zero. Both the air and water temperature on the day we did it were about 1°C. Which is still cold, don’t get me wrong, but not frostbite-and-gangrene cold. At least, not in the short time you’ll be exposed to it. So don’t worry, you won’t die. Probably. But I’m not a doctor.
Is the Antarctica Polar Plunge dangerous?
Probably not. But if you’re in any kind of doubt, check with your doctor before you leap. While jumping into freezing water is rumoured to have health benefits, there is also a small chance that if you suffer from a heart condition or circulatory problems, giving your system a shock like this could cause complications. I am NOT a doctor though, so please consult someone qualified if you’re concerned.
What are the health benefits of the Polar Plunge
People have been bathing in icy lakes and rivers for centuries, both for practical reasons (like washing or getting to the other side), and for the rumoured health benefits. In places like Iceland and Norway, jumping into the snow after first warming up in the hot springs or sauna is practically the national sport. That’s because that sharp shock from hot to cold is said to be great for circulation, makes you feel more energetic and invigorated, and can help with rheumatism, fibromyalgia, and respiratory complaints like asthma.
Tips for surviving the Polar Plunge
Have I not managed to put you off? You still want to fling yourself into a salty, icy bath just for shits and giggles? Ok then, here’s how to make the most of it…
- Go with your friends. After a few days on the boat you’ll no doubt have met some lovely people, so make sure you queue up with them. That way you can egg each other on and check that no one wimps out at the last minute.
- Strike a pose! There’ll be a photographer there recording the moment so you can prove to your friends back home that you actually did it, so try to throw a shape when you leap so you’re looking your best for the camera. (Admittedly, I failed at this.)
- Take a towel, but don’t wear it. The worst part of jumping into water is the shock from the temperature difference. That’s why if you run into the sea on a very hot day it can still feel horrific. But if you wait around in the chilly air in just your swimming costume before you do the Polar Plunge, you’ll already be cold, so when you hit the water it won’t feel nearly as bad.
Where can you do the Polar Plunge?
If you’re that keen to take a dive into freezing water, you can of course do it anywhere where you have access to the sea or a lake in winter – but please check it’s safe to do so! Or you could just fill your bathtub with ice. But if you want to do the Polar Plunge specifically, the place to go is either the Arctic or the Antarctic, on an official expedition where they offer it as an activity.
If you want to find out more about visiting Antarctica, check out Going to Antarctica: 30 Common Questions Answered
Why I decide to do the Polar Plunge in Antarctica (Take One)
As you know, I was not at all keen to take a dive into the freezing sea. I thought it would be painful, and I really didn’t see the point in putting myself through that just for the sake of some bragging rights.
But as I stand on the top deck looking down at the jumpers below, I begin to doubt my decision. For one thing, the FOMO and the peer pressure start to get to me. All my friends are doing it, and I want to be part of the gang. I worry that if I don’t do it, I’ll regret not taking the opportunity. And most of all, it doesn’t actually look that bad! Everyone who jumps seems to be just fine. No one emerges from the water gasping in pain. Some people even stay in and swim about for a bit. How bad can it really be?!
So I decide to face my fears and jump, literally. I hand my phone to a friend and ask him to film the epic moment from the top deck. Then I run down to my cabin, put on my bikini, queue up, and take the plunge (not especially elegantly, but who’s judging?).
And you know what? It really isn’t that bad. Cold, sure, but thanks to my no-towel-in-the-queue tactic I manage to reduce the shock, and it isn’t painful at all.
Which is just as well, because it turns out my friend has a bit of a problem with the video…
Why I decide to do it a second time (Take Two)
Yep, somehow he failed to focus, and the video is useless (and yet, I still managed to use it anyway, yay!).
Which of course means there’s only one thing for it. I’m going to have to do the Polar Plunge AGAIN!
So yes, dear reader. I went from 100% certainty that I was not going to jump if you paid me, to doing the Polar Plunge twice! But then, being the queen of indecision is just how I roll.
And after all that stress and worry, I’m really glad I did. I faced my fears, I got to be part of the gang, I did something a bit cool and different, and best of all, of course I now have ALL the bragging rights.
Which is why I wrote this blog post. Thanks for reading it!
If you’d like to know more about my trip to the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica, here are some more posts you might enjoy…