Hundreds brave chilly New Year’s for annual Polar Dip

Watch people jump into Lake Padden at 2017 Padden Polar Dip

People jump into Lake Padden at the Padden Polar Dip on Sunday, Jan. 1, in Bellingham.
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People jump into Lake Padden at the Padden Polar Dip on Sunday, Jan. 1, in Bellingham.

Several hundred folks braved a chilly New Year’s morning to charge headlong into Lake Padden for the annual Padden Polar Dip.

Crowds gathered early for the noon start of the event, huddling in groups of families and friends as the temperature hovered around 35 degrees and the lawn was dusted white with snow near the beach house starting point. Many participants wore festive garb and costumes, such as rock star wigs, reindeer antlers and Lucha Libre-style wrestler masks.

“It’s the first time with snow,” said Matt Strome of Bellingham, who was dressed as a rasher of bacon as he waited at the water’s edge with his wife Cameron and son Levi, 11. It was Matt’s sixth event and Levi’s third. Cameron was there to provide moral support and make peppermint hot chocolate – their family’s post-dip tradition.

The dreading at the beginning is the worst.

Hanna Tarleton, Bellingham

Surface water temperature measured 35 degrees at midmorning, said Lance Romo of the Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department, which sponsors the annual festivities. Romo sported a brown tartan kilt and woolen viking cap with horns, knitted by his mother. Some 400 to 500 people take part every year, Romo said.

Thin patches of ice floated near the shore in some spots and the shoreline jelled into a cold, sticky muck. “Water shoes are the secret,” said Strome, who wore his costume into the water. “It was awesome! I typically go out with the mob, walk 10 feet out and dive in, take a couple of strokes. Diving in, it’s the easiest way to go.”

Hanna Tarleton of Bellingham, who wore a tiara in her blond hair, said the hardest part was waiting for the noon signal to hit the water.

“The dreading at the beginning is the worst,” Tarleton said, wrapping her arms around her shoulders for warmth, wearing only shorts and a string bikini top. “This year it was colder. Mentally, the snow was tough to take.”

Lucy Truemper, 12, of Bellingham, joined several of her Bellingham Bay Swim Club teammates in the frigid plunge. “It was cold, but it was better than last year,” Truemper said. “I just ran right out.”

A brisk 2.6-mile trek around the lake, called the Resolution Walk/Run, kicked off the annual Padden event. Participants lingered after the plunge, chatting and drinking coffee and cider, or grabbing a quick shower at the beach house.

A similar New Year’s Day event, the Polar Bear Plunge, is held every year at Birch Bay. On Sunday, the water temperature was running about 45 degrees, according to the National Oceanic Data Center, which takes regular temperature readings.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty