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Ring in the New Year with a Splash: Lake Washington's Polar Bear Plunge

by
Dec 30th, 2013

There are 10,000 ways in which one can choose to celebrate the start of a new year, but few are as uncomfortably exciting as participating in a Polar Bear Plunge.  If you live in the Seattle area and like the idea of getting cold and wet before returning to the warmth and comfort of an indoor gathering with close friends and family, schedule a visit to Lake Washington into your New Year’s agenda so that you can at least feed off the energy of others as you do the unthinkable: plunging into near-freezing cold water on a cold winter’s day make your first hours of 2014 as memorable as possible.

What is a Polar Bear Plunge?

If you are not already acquainted with the concept of a polar bear plunge, it is an event during which human participants fully submerge themselves in freezing cold water, usually for fun or to draw attention to and raise money for a cause.  To classify as a true polar bear plunge, the air outside must also be on the chilly side.

The History of the Polar Bear Plunge

While people have undoubtedly been plunging into cold temperature water for thousands of years, the history of the “polar bear plunge” as we know it (for fun rather than survival) is relatively short.  The first known organized New Year’s plunge took place in South Boston in 1904.  It has been held every year since.  Polar bear swims enjoyed an increase in popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, when many of the annual events in Canada and the United States were held for the first time.  The novelty of the polar bear plunge has gained such ground in the Seattle area over the past decade or two that several events are organized on the banks of Lake Washington and the Puget Sound.  The largest and most well-known of these is held at Matthews Beach Park and is headed into its 12th year.  Other polar bear plunges in the area will be held at Gene Coulon Memorial Brach Park and Golden Gardens Park in Ballard, near AMLI’s new luxury northwest Seattle apartment community, AMLI Mark 24.

How You Can Prepare

Because there is very little one can do to prepare for the freezing cold temperatures associated with a polar bear plunge aside from mentally bracing oneself, the focus on preparing for a polar bear plunge centers almost entirely on the aftermath.  A dry towel, wrapped around a heat pack can provide the first wave of post-plunge relief.  After this, it helps to have some seriously warm clothes to change into, along with perhaps a pair of HotHands or other disposable hand warmers.  And as a form of congratulations, every polar bear plunge participant should be handed a cup of hot tea, coffee, hot chocolate, apple cider, or mulled wine that can further help with the warming process.

Is it Worth It?

Determining whether or not participation in a polar bear plunge is worth the temporary suffering it entails requires personal reflection.  If you thrive on pushing your limits or entertaining your friends by taking center stage in spice contests and similar competitions, a polar bear plunge is probably something you will enjoy.  If perpetual comfort is a top priority of yours or the thought of dipping into icy water makes you highly apprehensive, then you may be better suited as a warmly-dressed spectator at a polar bear plunge event.  Die-hard winter bathers claim that polar bear plunges are great for stamina and blood circulation, but medical professionals warn that individuals with certain underlying health problems should not plunge into freezing cold water and any health benefits associated with these dips have yet to be proven.

If you are looking to participate in a Lake Washington or Puget Sound Polar Bear Plunge this coming New Year’s, you have several options.  The largest and longest running is held at Matthews Beach Park at noon.  Costumes are encouraged but not required, hot beverages are provided, and those who plunge receive an official badge for their courage.  Next year, new residents of AMLI Mark 24 Ballard rental apartment homes will have a closer option in the 11 A.M. Polar Bear Plunge at Golden Gardens Park.  Both promise to be exciting renditions of a chilly New Year’s tradition that is gaining more popularity with each passing year.

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