Polar Bear Plunge – A Chilly New Year’s Tradition at Long…

first_imgBy Gail WoodOn January 1, 1984, Dave Sederberg wanted to do something different to kick off a new year.So, he convinced his good buddy, Loren Smith, to hop into a car and drive up to Vancouver, B.C., to take part in an annual tradition there – the Polar Bear Plunge, a wade into the ocean.“It was fun,” Sederberg said. “Something different.”He enjoyed the plunge but not the drive. So, Sederberg figured he’d start his own chilly dip in Olympia. The next year, Sederberg, Smith, and Smith’s brother, Greg, jumped into a chilly Capitol Lake on New Year’s Day. Just the three of them.For most plungers, it’s an “in and out” swim.And a tradition – the Polar Bear Plunge – began locally.The second year, 17 friends took the plunge. The numbers, with Sederberg and the Smiths making their sales pitch to come, continued to grow, bumping to 43 the third year. Eventually, turnout peaked at about 200 brave souls, lining up on the shore of Capitol Lake to take a chilly dip.Now, 30 years after Sederberg and Smith made that drive and dip to Vancouver, the Polar Bear Plunge still lives. Except in 2008 it moved from Capitol Lake to Long Lake in Lacey. And, with the Lacey Parks and Recreation organizing and advertising the chilly plunge, it’s grown, peaking in 2010 with a crowd of 733 brave plungers and 633 last year.“I think most people do it because it’s an interesting and unique way to bring in the new year,” said Jenny Wilson, Lacey’s Parks and Recreation Supervisor. “Maybe it’s a freezing cold way for them to remember their resolutions and have it stick with them.”Costumes are encouraged at the New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge at Long Lake.Almost from the start, there’s been a carnival atmosphere to the event. With Sederberg’s encouragement, fellow plungers came dressed in a variety of costumes. Most just came in swim suits. But there’s also been people dressed in a variety of costumes. There’s been the Smurfs, Dorthy and the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz, Superman, Super Mario Brothers, Alice from Alice in Wonderland, and, of course, Santa Claus.For a couple of years Smith wore a dress shirt, tie and sports jacket with his swim trunks.“Yeah, we encouraged people to come in costumes,” Smith said. “It was kind of a party type atmosphere. For a lot of people, they felt more alive that day than the rest of the year. It really just kind of jump started them and gave them a good vibe for the rest of the year.”Over the years, there’s also been an emphasis on “plunge.” It’s a get in and get out event. With the water temperature ranging between 38 and 44 degrees, there’s the risk of hypothermia.“You wouldn’t want to encourage anyone to go too deep,” Sederberg said.A chilly Long Lake hosts a 30-year tradition of Polar Bear Plunges.For 23 straight years, Sederberg, Smith and Shaun Rhodes rarely missed a plunge. Sederberg, a 1977 graduate from Timberline High School, missed one because he felt he was coming down with a cold. Smith and Rhodes showed up every year. But when Lacey took over and moved the chilly event to Long Lake, Sederberg said adios to the event he started after doing it once in Lacey. That was enough for him.“After being tied to it for over 20 years and having no other options to do on that day, it was liberating to finally let it go,” Sederberg said.This New Year’s Day, Sederberg will be with his wife and daughter in upstate New York to visit relatives.While most everyone rushes in and out of the water and race to a warm car, Smith, a 1975 graduate from Olympia High School, had been known to stick it out and swim. One year, Smith got in a wait-it-out challenge from another swimmer.“After about 15 minutes, I said lets call it a truce because we were both numb,” Smith said. “Of course the ego in me wanted to keep on swimming.”Dave Sederberg (in center) partnered with Loren Smith (right) and Shan Rhodes (left) to start the Polar Bear Plunge.  This photo, snapped in 1985, shows the trio after their New Year’s dip into Capitol Lake.Sederberg was accustomed to the cold. He used to water ski on Capitol Lake on New Year’s Day without a wet suit.Other than chills and being shivering cold, there’s been no serious injuries or problems over 30 years of chilly plunges on New Year’s Day. But just in case, there’s always a medic ambulance on site.Each year, there are repeat plungers, people who come back year after year. Wilson said the oldest New Year’s dipper has been an 85-year-old man. The youngest has been a 3-year-old boy. Much of the attraction is the chance to be part of a large crowd that is going to jump into the lake. Then there’s the saner 1,500 or so people on shore who cheer them on.“There’s definitely some camaraderie that forms on the shore as people are freezing, waiting for the countdown,” Wilson said. “It’s unique.”People will start showing up for the New Year’s dip and dash at noon. The plunge is at 1 p.m.“I’d say this is our fastest event ever,” Wilson said. “Seriously. The park is empty in about 30 seconds after the plunge. It’s a mass exodus. People are running up the hill to get to their warm cars.”It’s an invigorating way to start a new year.For more information on the New Year’s Polar Plunge, click here. Facebook77Tweet0Pin0last_img

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