Temperatures hovered around freezing on New Year’s Day, so, naturally, hundreds of people decided to jump into cold water for the annual Birch Bay Polar Bear Plunge.
An estimated 350 people took the plunge Friday, while hundreds more gathered to support the bravery of those who sprinted into saltwater of just over 50 degrees.
The event was sponsored by the Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce. Others in Whatcom County went to Lake Padden for the annual Padden Polar Dip.
Why, exactly, people continue to jump into cold water on the first of the year remains unclear. Some say it’s on their bucket list. Others enjoy the thrill of it. And many see it as a way to refresh each year — a kind of baptism.
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A baptism is exactly what Megan Wiese’s son, Jackson, called it just minutes before both took the plunge.
“We’re going to jump in and start the new year ready to go,” Wiese said.
At the age of 12, the New Year’s plunge was already on Ethan Robins’ bucket list. He and his friend Kenny Reese, also 12, used the opportunity to make one last memory together before Reese moved away.
Reese, however, is a Polar Bear Plunge veteran. He said he’s taken the plunge several times before.
“I guess the best way to describe it is freezing,” Reese said.
It’s the symbolization of the rejuvenation of the soul.
Indeed, on New Year’s Day, the temperature outside was freezing. Organizers said the temperature was about 30 degrees at noon when people splashed the Birch Bay shores. The high temperature on Friday, according to the National Weather Service, was forecast around 37 degrees.
Matthew Bishop was the only one in his family to get wet. Bishop, from London, now lives in Seattle and thought the Polar Bear Plunge would be fun.
“We don’t do this in London,” Bishop said.
When asked why he thinks so many people participate in events like these, Bishop said there’s no way people are doing it for fame, since so many others join in. The only other explanation, he reasoned, is that it “must be madness.”
That may be as good an explanation as any, but Jeff Carrington, who is on the Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce board, and, on Friday, was dressed as a polar bear, said the event strengthens the sense of community — it’s a part of Birch Bay’s past, present and future. People, he said, use the opportunity to refresh each year.
“It’s the symbolization of the rejuvenation of the soul,” Carrington said.
JW Dalton and his family all took the plunge together. After the dip in the water, they draped towels over each other to warm up. Dalton acknowledged it was cold, but he had no regrets.
“It’s totally a day to build memories as a group,” Dalton said.