I did the Polar Bear Plunge (aka “Polar Bear Swim”) again this year. Since I had better planning going into it, I thought I’d try going to the big shindig at Matthews Beach sponsored by the Seattle Parks Department.
Writes The Stranger: “(Gloating) Last year, 800 foolish hippies kicked off the New Year with this benighted pagan ritual: They jumped in the water, froze their teats off, and howled in pain. (They think the polar bear is their collective spirit animal—it’s actually the lemming.) This year, Seattle Parks and Recreation is expecting more than 1,000 participants. Bring a warm blanket and a Thermos of something hot, and chuckle at people behaving like animals. (Matthews Beach, 9300 51st Ave NE, 684-7241. Noon.)”
Well, I don’t know about teats – other parts were hurting more. And not all of us buy into the collective spirit animal aspect. Still, it’s an entertaining event, whether you’re a participant, spectator or both. The “registration” process was primarily to count how many people were attending. The wrist band was free, and there were no forms to fill out (or mailing lists to be put on) other than optionally writing your name on a blank piece of paper.
The early arrivals were mulling around the park waiting until noon. (Note to Starbucks or Tully’s: you’d make a killing selling coffee here.) I got there early enough that I went back to my car to warm up and work on some puzzle books.
At two minutes until noon, people began disrobing. Seeing a bunch of other pasty people in swimsuits made me feel right at home. Several, obviously more experienced, were jockeying for a position up front. This didn’t make sense until I followed the middle wave into the water: the folks out front can run out, dunk, and run back to dry land. With a start in the middle, you have the other teeming masses ahead of you, slowly working their way towards the deeper water, also realizing the water is bleeping cold. There’s no room to just go for it and jump in.
Once out, my body warmed up again… except my legs and feet. I wasn’t the only one trying to work out the tingly feeling in my feet by walking back to the car without shoes on. There were several stragglers coming in as I eked my way out the parking lot, heater on maximum warp.
Except for the slow-motion aspect, the experience was much like last year: everyone was friendly, there were multi-generation families, and some people even had costumes on. I’m definitely planning on doing this next January 1st.