He may live in Mexico City, but Luis Reyes has made it a tradition to jump into Okanagan Lake every Jan. 1.
The 23-year-old student was among 172 semi-naked polar bears who plunged into the lake in Peachland on Tuesday. Reyes travels to the Valley every Christmas to see his mom Ileana and indulge in all things Canadian at wintertime.
"I feel more connected with my Canadian part than my Mexican part doing all the Canadian stuff," he said shortly before submerging himself in the icy lake. "I come for the snowboarding. It's my fourth time doing the polar bear swim."
Reyes, who sports a maple-leaf tattoo, needed little coaxing to brave the chilly water alongside a record number of thrill-seekers.
The air temperature was -1 C and the rocky beach was icier this year.
"You try to run as fast as you can," he said. "You don't think about it. You just do it."
The mood was festive as the crowd gathered by the lake in front of Peachland Community Centre. George Nater, 68, yodelled to bide his time while wearing only a Viking hat and trunks.
Once the countdown reached one, he joined the throng and stampeded into the lake for the first time. He swam out to the wooden pylons and back - a 40-metre odyssey.
"I tell you, a cold shower is colder," he said once back on shore. "Here it hurts when you get in there. You get pain all over your body. I think you have to be a little stupid to do it."
People whooped and hollered as they ran in. They cheered and howled, uttering "Omigod" again and again. Peachland resident Vince Boyko, 49, now has four polar-bear swims on his resume.
"It's like getting slapped all across your body. And then when you go under, it's pretty neat. It's an adrenalin rush - quite a thrill."
The event is growing in popularity. The turnout exceeded last year's record of 160 swimmers and continues to attract people from as far as Australia and Europe. Many, like Oliver Mendonza, participate year after year.
"It's a challenge and life experience that's a little out of the ordinary. And it's on their bucket list," said Pelma Land, the recreation co-ordinator who organizes the event. "Some people think you're crazy."
Santa Clause made a first-time appearance this year. The jolly elf stripped down to his red, cover-all underwear before diving in.
Some in Kelowna wonder why Peachland gets all the fun. Kim Foreman, who has taken the polar-bear plunge six times, says the city's sandy beaches are well-suited for a similar tradition.
"I like the sense of community - everyone coming together to do one crazy thing," she said. "It's 90 seconds of the most intense feeling you'll never forget for the whole year."