Want to really kick start your New Year? Then sign up for the Nieuwjaarsduik (New Year’s Dive)! An Amsterdam Mama, Annick Noirfalisse, took a dip in these 4 degrees open waters, on January 1st. Not only did she survive it; she loved it!

How much more Dutch can I be if I manage to do this AND survive? 

The idea of jumping in icy water on New Year’s Day, surrounded by thousands of people and be filmed for public television in my bathing suit, never appealed to me. But, according to the Dutch Iceman Wim Hof, cold exposure, along with meditation and breathing exercises, relieves stress, depression and improves your mental health. So, when registration for the 2020 Nieuwjaarsduik (New Year’s Dive) popped up on my Facebook page, I could not resist. How much more Dutch can I be if I manage to do this AND survive? And what a cold, I mean cool, way to welcome the new decade. I signed up for the 61st edition of the Zandvoort Nieuwjaarsduik, along with 4500 other fans. I even rallied my family to join, but they unfortunately did not share my enthusiasm. My teenager quipped, “You’re going to catch a cold and be sick, Mum”, and my other child agreed, “It’s way too cold!”.  None of my Dutch in-laws had done it. “You’re very brave! “, they all responded. During the Christmas holidays, eager to drum up some support, I chatted to two Dutch friends, who were immediately keen. “What a great way to start the New Year!”, they enthused. Within two weeks, word got around. We were a group of four adults and three teenagers (not mine, unfortunately) ready to take the freezing plunge.

On 1st January 2020, a total of 60000 people took part, across 229 locations.

On New Year’s Day, we arrived around noon at Beach Club Tien in Zandvoort, which gave us just enough time to recover from New Year’s Eve celebrations. The Nieuwejaarsduik was not scheduled until 14:00. We first collected our UNOX (official supporters) hats and stayed warm with hot drinks, until the 13:45 musical warm-up on the beach started. We positioned ourselves in the middle of the crowd close to the starting line. The trick was to slowly undress while dancing, to retain body heat for as long as possible. When the gong went, I just ran into the water and kept going until the water reached my neck, and then ran back to my spot on the beach, joining the choir of screams, squeals and laughter. With hindsight, the worst part of the experience was getting numb feet on the icy cold sand. Running back and forth to the sea, and dipping myself in four degrees water, was exhilarating. Dressing as quickly as possible, with wet, sandy feet, while holding a towel with cold, numb fingers felt a bit clumsy, but I did it. The cherry on the cake: the hearty erwtensoep (pea and sausage soup) and the Duikheld (Diving Hero) certificate from UNOX. Such an invigorating experience to start the new decade was, for me, better than 1000 new resolutions. Unforgettable!

“What a great way to start the New Year!”

Practical Tips

  • Travel by train to Zandvoort-aan-Zee, and then walk for 10 minutes to Beach Club Tien.
  • If you arrive by car, there are parking spaces on the street and open-air parking close by.
    • Parking Watertoren; Rob’s Parkeerservice – €5 cash for the dive/ €7,50 per day
  • Kindly ask someone to join you to look after your clothes and belongings on the beach. Make a mental note of where that person stands.
  • For the truly courageous, naked New Year Dives also exist!
  • Be selfish: choose a spot in the middle of the crowd and avoid the edges where the cold wind blows harder, although the ring of spectators around also provides protection.
  • Do not take young children, there were hardly any. Keep your teenagers close to you.
  • No prior training with icy cold showers at home is required if you’re running into the water. However, if you have to jump into a canal or a lake, then prepare, the week before, with a cold shower every day.
  • Only take part in the Dive if you feel fit enough.
  • It is strongly advised not to plunge headfirst into the water.
  • Wear your UNOX hat, it looks great and really helps to keep your head warm. More importantly, these bright orange hats make you more visible to the life-and-coastguards on duty.

Fun Facts

The tradition of swimming in icy cold water on New Year’s Day originated in Canada. On 1st January 1920,  Peter Pantages, a Greek immigrant, convinced his friends to plunge into the freezing Vancouver waters. This bold act inaugurated the Polar Bear Swim tradition. While Polar Bear Swims are held to celebrate the new year in Canada, they often serve to raise money for charities in the United States. The first Nieuwjaarsduik took place in Zandvoort in 1960 and was initiated by Ok van Batenburg, a swimming coach, testing the icy seawater on the second Christmas day of 1959. A year later, on New Year’s Day, 28 people ran into the water. The now-famous Scheveningen Nieuwjaarsduik at Den Haag was started in 1965, by Jan van Scheijndel, a Dutch marathon swimmer who crossed the English Channel, along with seven other participants. New Year’s Day Dives are now organized in many countries around the world but The Netherlands has the most Nieuwjaarsduik sites and the most significant number of participants. On 1st January 2020, a total of 60,000 people took part, across 229 locations. Scheveningen draws a record number of participants, with somewhere between 7000 and 10,000 running into the sea each year.

Annick Noirfalisse

Annick Noirfalisse is a Belgian mum of three, who has worked for more than ten years as a journalist in Switzerland, London, and Amsterdam, covering economics, finance, societal, environmental, and health issues. She's also a French language teacher and translator, who loves Japanese food, doing sports, and nature walks in her spare time.