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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Takin' the Plunge at the Haeundae Polar Bear Swim Festival

I had the pleasure recently of watching the 25th Polar Bear Swimming Contest on Busan's beautiful Haeundae Beach.

I rolled out of bed early on a Sunday to catch the festivities. The opening ceremonies and welcoming activities began at 9:00 that morning, but the real action started at 11:00 with the official swim event.

The swimmers were called to the front-and-center of the beach for the warm-up. Naturally the majority of the swimmers were Korean, but a few flag-toting foreigners could be made out in the crowd as well. The swimmers joined a warm-up group led by a quartet of attractive young Korean dancers. They were pushed through stretches, aerobic exercise and some fun games, all to the beat of loud and exciting music and cheers from the attending crowds. Cameras and tourists circled the competitors, all hoping for a glimpse of the fun.

Warming up with the dancers and camera crews

Swimmers small and big warm-up together
After the warm-up, the swimmers revved up with a roar of cheers. They turned to the water, and were sent off by the organizers with the bang from a gun, the thunder of applause, and a shower of streamers and confetti. Camera crews stood at the ready with commentators to live-broadcast the event.
Organizers cheer on those brave enough to swim
TV commentators reporting the events

Support for swimmers
on land and in the air!

The swim event lasted about half an hour and after that, the cold and victorious stopped to pose for photos with family, friends, and admirers. Yet another fun and unique event that I've enjoyed during my stay in Korea, and the perfect way to pass an afternoon during the long, cold month of January!

Post-victory pose with penguin

The Polar Bear Swimming Competition takes place every January at Haeundae Beach in Busan. Take any number of trains or buses to Busan, and then the subway to stop #205 on Line 2 (the green line). The beach is only a 5-minute walk from exits 4 and 5. This year, the festival took place January 8th, 2012, and the cost of entry was 20,000 won, including an official t-shirt. You can register through the festival's website,

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