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Why Whitby's Annual Boxing Day Dip Continues to Grow Year on Year

Whitby's Annual Boxing Day Dip- swimmers in fancy dress, running into the sea
December 2023
Reading time 4 Minutes

Running into a freezing cold North Sea the day after Christmas might be the last thing on many people's minds

However the Whitby District Lions Club's Boxing Day Dip has become an annual tradition for the hundreds who love to brave the cold. Volunteer Brian Harrison tells us why.

Whitby District Lions Club are part of Lions Clubs International, a global network of volunteers working together to make a difference in their local communities. The Whitby branch was founded in 1970 and has been serving the area ever since. ‘It’s the biggest member’s organisation in the world and there are clubs in towns and in cities all over the globe,’ says Brian. ‘The main function of Lions is to raise money locally to support charities and good causes within the area. A couple of years ago we had our 50th anniversary, and each year we hold a number of events such as Whitby Beer Festival in the summer and, of course, our annual Boxing Day Dip.’ 

Brian initially became involved thanks to his father. ‘My dad was a Lion and I was always coming to events and raising money. Eventually he asked me if I wanted to join, so I did, with a friend, and have been involved ever since,’ he explains. 

Now in charge of organising the popular Boxing Day Dip, Brian tells us that the event attracts more and more brave dippers every year. ‘Up in the North it’s quite a traditional thing, I think there is another big one in Sunderland and a smaller one in Scarborough. I don’t know whether we were the first, or whether they were all set up roughly around the same time, but we are certainly one of the longest running Boxing Day dips along the Yorkshire and North East coast,’ he says. 

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‘It started off quite small with only a couple of people and it has grown over the years into a big Whitby tradition. Last year was our biggest event ever’

‘It started off quite small with only a couple of people and it has grown over the years into a big Whitby tradition. Last year was our biggest event ever. We had more than 200 people taking part and 1,000 to 2,000 people who came to watch. It’s a really big event for the Whitby calendar.’

Despite the big day being over it seems everyone is still very much in the festive spirit. ‘People come down on Boxing Day morning spreading Christmas cheer,’ says Brian. ‘[The Dip] is a good start to the day and people go off after and do their own Boxing Day activities. It’s just a great atmosphere.’

Once the event had become established, Whitby District Lions Club decided to make it even more special by using the occasion to help raise money for charity. ‘For many years people would raise money for a charity of their choice. They would pay it into the Whitby Lions Club and we would then distribute it out to each individual charity,’ Brian explains. But as the event got bigger and attracted more people, raising money this way became more difficult to manage. 

‘After Covid, we decided to charge a £10 entry fee for the event and then if people wanted a sponsor form we could give them one, but they would be responsible for raising their own money and sending it to their chosen charity. It’s worked really well this way, and since we started this the numbers have certainly increased. We have even had visitors who have been on holiday in Whitby wanting to get involved,’ Brian says. 

Because of the nature of the event, it’s difficult to say exactly how many dippers attend each year, but the numbers are always growing, including those who are just spectating. ‘On the West Pier, and where the bandstand is, is full of people and families watching the event. On the battery parade overlooking the beach and where the whalebones are looking down people gather to watch the sea dippers, and hundreds come onto the beach too,’ Brian explains. ‘It’s got more popular as the years have gone on and for such a small area it’s brilliant.

‘We also encourage people to come in fancy dress and that tradition has carried on, so we get people coming back year after year taking part. For a lot of people it runs in the family. If one person does it then the next generation will take part, which is nice. We also have some quite big teams who do the dip – we have a couple of gyms, rowing clubs and football teams who take part and raise money for their own charities,’ Brian adds.

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Dressing up is part of the fun and the Whitby District Lions Club give out awards each year for the best male, female, under 18 and best team fancy dress costumes. ‘The winners get a voucher and for the team one we have a cup,’ explains Brian. ‘Every year there’s a really big variety of outfits and obviously we get the classic Father Christmas and Mrs Christmas costumes, but the teams especially come in all sorts of different outfits. One team last year all came in blow up dinosaurs and it was quite a sight to see lots of big green dinosaurs waddling into the North Sea on Boxing Day morning,’ laughs Brian. ‘We’ve had everything from traffic cones and Batman and Robin, to wrestlers and all sorts of weird and wonderful animals.’

For many, the Boxing Day Dip is a chance to take on a challenge. ‘I think it’s definitely grown since open water swimming and sea swimming has taken off over the last few years,’ Brian says. ‘I think people see it as a great way to challenge themselves, to have some fun and raise money at the same time. We’re always amazed at how many people want to be involved each year.’ 

Once the brave dippers have taken the plunge the team of Whitby District Lion Club volunteers are there to look after them, with a space to get dried and changed. ‘We also offer them soup and blankets to get warmed up. We do have charity collectors going around the crowds to raise money and they hand out Christmas chocolates too.

‘The dip’s kept growing and growing and now it’s about getting the world out there,’ Brian continues. ‘We work with Whitby Pet Shop in the centre of the town where people can turn up, pay and get a sponsor form, or they can enter via the website and pay online. It’s really easy to get signed up and get involved. Luckily there seems to be more and more people interested in taking part in the Boxing Day Dip, so we can keep raising money for charities in need.’ 

Top Tips for Open Water Swimming

• In the colder months wetsuits are advised and if you’re new to open water swimming, ease yourself into it. Wear brightly-coloured swim caps, and whistles, lights and safety buoys are advised. A waterproof watch should be considered so you can keep an eye on the time you spend in the water. 

• Never go alone, no matter how safe you think it is. Ideally join a swim club or get a friend or a beach spotter to keep an eye on you, and always tell someone where you are swimming.

• Know your surroundings in terms of tides, rocks, currents and depth – temperature is an important factor too, so be sure to test the waters before diving straight in. 

• Ease into the water so you don’t send your body into shock, and make sure to keep your breathing relaxed before you submerge. 

• Always plan how you are going to get out – before you get in!

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