Good riddance 2020! Those ready to run into a new year and symbolically wash away the stress of 2020 can gather, with appropriate spacing of course, at Lake Lanier Olympic Park beach on Jan. 1 for a cool sprint into 2021.

A Winter Beach Bash/Polar Bear Swim will replace the 25-plus year tradition of leaping off the docks into a new year. Instead of lining up behind the boathouse to take a plunge, 2021 “Polar Bears” and their fans can line up at food trucks for hot meals and sandwiches and swoosh through the sand to dip toes, dunk heads, or swim the buoy line in a relay race.

The Lanier Canoe & Kayak Club, event organizer, decided to change things up for 2021 due to several factors, according to program director Jim O’Dell. “In the first place, having everyone hanging around and gathering at the boathouse, it’s seemingly harder to stay separated,” he said. Secondly, “It seemed like jumping off the docks was getting a little stale … numbers were dropping,” partially due to high water that postponed or canceled the dock jump a couple of years.

And, finally, the beach offers more flexibility for other festivities, such as food truck fare, a marshmallow snowman contest, fire pit, music and fun water relay. “We decided to make it more festive,” O’Dell said, hinting activities might also include bashing a red spiked Covid pinata.

In the main event, polar bears will jaunt into the water in groups of six or seven consisting of family members, friends or individuals. They don’t have to fully submerge to get a commemorative t-shirt. Every effort counts, from toe-dipping to lap swimming.

O’Dell expects a relay marketed toward Cross-Fit members and athletic types will heat up some competition and bring on some laughs. Teams of three in the Relay Challenge must wear personal flotation devices and two pairs of sweat pants (snuggly hitched at the waist) while they run one-at-a-time from the beach into the water. They must swim the buoy line, exit the water and tag a team member waiting on the sand. The fastest team to finish wins.

Another contest offers a softer competition. The marshmallow snowman arena will showcase marshmallow creations participants assemble in advance to show off for a panel of judges.

In mid-November, organizers were still considering the t-shirt logo and competition prizes. O’Dell suggested the shirt might show a polar bear looking over its shoulder at a Covid image.

New Year’s Day Winter Beach Bash/Polar Bear Swim 
What: Food trucks, music, marshmallow snowman contest, swim relay, and small group runs into Lake Lanier from the beach
Where: Lake Lanier Olympic Park, 3105 Clarks Bridge Rd., Gainesville
When: Beach Bash begins at 11 a.m.; run into lake starts at noon; festivities continue until around 2 p.m. Jan. 1.

Registration: Pre-registration encouraged to qualify for a commemorative t-shirt. Cost is $20 per Polar Bear participant.

Register at or Lanier Canoe & Kayak Club Facebook page.
Information:, 770-287-7888.