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Prest: Keep a cool head when picking spots to swim this summer

“Most of the deaths were men, in particular young men.”
Devon McPherson cools off in lower Lynn Creek in June 2022. | Paul McGrath / North Shore News

The heat is here, fancy a swim under the hot summer sun? Are you sure?

Because a look at the latest news seems to indicate that the fates are conspiring to keep us out of the water.

Over in Vancouver, the mayor recently announced that beloved outdoor gem Kitsilano Pool is slated to open in August, which is great news for pool lovers in the future but doesn’t help those looking to get wet in the present. And over here on the North Shore there are no public outdoor pools, closed, open or otherwise.

We do have beaches of course, but our most famous, Ambleside Beach, was under a no-swim advisory for more than two weeks due to elevated E. coli levels. That news no doubt gave a rash to North Shore swimmers who were already gasping for air due to the news coming out this year about the hit local taxpayers are set to take because of the skyrocketing costs of the new sewage treatment plant.

So if you’re going to swim outside, you may need to get away from the crowds a little, find a quieter spot where there are no floaties or lifeguards. But that comes with its own hazards.

Last week a 21-year-old man tragically died in North Vancouver’s Lynn Canyon. Witnesses reported seeing the man go over Lynn Creek’s Twin Falls before disappearing under water. Firefighters, North Shore rescue members and BC Ambulance Service paramedics worked to save the man but were unsuccessful. First responders reported that the man was not a strong swimmer.

Such incidents are all too common in the area, and no doubt traumatic for witnesses and first responders. Sincere condolences to friends and family of the victim.

The incident also underscored the dangers of swimming in creeks, particularly for people who don’t have local knowledge of the waterways, which can change daily due to fluctuating water levels and flows.

“We just want people to make sure they’re aware of the dangers before they enter the water,” assistant fire chief Scott Ferguson of the District of North Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services told the North Shore News. “One day they can go in and it could be easy swimming and low water levels. And a day or two later, it could be completely different and so they’re unprepared and can get themselves in trouble.”

A recent BC Coroners Service report showed that 101 people died by accidental drowning in B.C. last year, with July ranking as the deadliest month. The deaths also predominately happened in rivers, creeks, ponds and lakes. And most of the deaths were men, in particular young men.

That stat in particular gave me pause as a former young man and father of two soon-to-be young men.

Swimming is an important life skill, they say, and equally important is knowing what you’re getting yourself into – is there a lifeguard? Are there hidden dangers? Are alcohol or drugs involved? – and having a realistic assessment of your own abilities.

I’m on the low-end of swimming capabilities, having taken lessons at my small-town aquatic centre for a few years before getting stalled somewhere in the old Canadian colour badge system. Marooned on Maroon maybe? As a kid I was strong enough to go tubing and waterskiing on the lake back home growing up on the Prairies, but never one of those “let’s swim across the lake” swimmers.

My kids are similar. We signed them up for early swim lessons and they made their way through some of the animals – Jellyfishes? Seahorses? – before moving on to other baseball-related activities. They can get around in the water, but they won’t be challenging Michael Phelps anytime soon.

But we all know our limitations. I envy folks who can zip through the water with ease, and I know that’s not me. One day some friends and I decided to have a race to a dock and back in English Bay. By the time they’d gone there and back, I think I travelled approximately five metres, any progress I made erased by some light waves.

But who doesn’t love a splash in a mountain lake, secret hot spring or refreshing creek? A sunny dip is still one of summer’s great thrills, and people will still be flocking to the water as the temperature heats up.

We all just need to do our best to know what body of water we’re getting into, and how we’re getting out of it. Stay cool out there.

Andy Prest is the editor of the North Shore News. His humour/lifestyle column runs biweekly.

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