Take a Polar Bear Plunge—Up and Down the Island!

Posted in Community, Feature, More Stories

Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
December 30, 2015

One of the things on my bucket list had always been a Polar Bear Dive, but the cold water was enough to keep me on the shore. So I put it off until a few years ago, when I plunged into the water in Freeland on New Year’s Day. I planned to just get a little wet and call it good. But I wasn’t used to the buoyancy of salt water, quickly lost my footing, and was fully immersed before I realized how cold it was. I crawled back onto the beach, checked it off my list and never considered doing it again.

More than a hundred people make the plunge at Double Bluff Beach. (photo by David Welton)

More than a hundred people make the plunge at Double Bluff Beach.  (photo by David Welton)

But that’s not the case with most of the participants of the Polar Bear Dive at Double Bluff Beach in Freeland, where thousands—both participants and spectators—have joined in the fun over the last 12 years. Even if this year is colder, said Dive Coordinator Jon Gabelein, there may be even more participants this year.

“There are some people who do it every year as their New Year’s ritual and then others who feel once is enough,” he said. “The event draws people of all ages, from small children to those well into their 70s,” he added. More than 140 people took the plunge last year.

Cathy Darracott has participated every year except one. The first year, she did it with her dad, who had it on his bucket list—a one-timer. But each year, she meets a few others and her group has grown larger. Now it’s an annual event. “Each year, it gets harder to get that oomph—that’s why it’s important to be with friends,” she said. “As soon as the blast goes off, we’re running with everyone else. Then it’s over in 10 minutes, home into the hot tub, and eating New Year’s Eve leftovers!”

Jumpers in years’ past. Here at Freeland Park. (photo by David Welton)

Jumpers in years past, at Freeland Park  (photo by David Welton)

The South Whidbey event benefits the Island County 4-H Teen Leadership Program with support from the South Whidbey Recreation District. Whidbey Coffee Company and Mukilteo Coffee Roasters provide the hot drinks. The $15 registration fee gets you unlimited hot beverages and a T-shirt. There’s music and a few beach fires to keep you warm while you socialize with the many others who come to watch.

If you plan on crossing this dive off your bucket list, or you just want to watch, registration starts at 10:30 a.m. at Double Bluff Beach, 6325 Double Bluff Road in Freeland. The plunge is at 12 noon. Bring towels, warm clothes, and blankets. Wear something on your feet to protect them from the rocks. Costumes are optional. It’s a party! There’s more information on their Facebook page: “Whidbey Island Polar Bear Dive.”

It’s a party! Costumes are optional. (photo by David Welton)

It’s a party! Costumes are optional.  (photo by David Welton)

But if you plan on being further north, there are still opportunities to get cold and wet. If you’re part of the Navy community, there is a Polar Bear Plunge at Rocky Point off Clover Valley Drive, near the Navy base. This is the fourth year for this free event, where between 50 and 100 brave souls will venture in. Rocky Point is easy to access, so it isn’t necessary to be military, but if you are, you can register online. According to Fitness Manager Jennifer Kellner, there will be extra people in the water to make the dive safe. So don’t forget your towel and a blanket and plan to munch on s’mores and clutch cups of hot chocolate as you warm up. For more information, call 360-257-6936.

Many come every year to participate at Double Bluff Beach. (photo by David Welton)

Many arrive every year to participate in the fun at Double Bluff Beach.  (photo by David Welton)

Finally, if you want to get a full workout, join others for the 5K Run/Walk and Polar Bear Plunge in Oak Harbor. This is the third year at Windjammer Park, 1600 S. Beeksma Drive, starting at 11 a.m. Expect about 200 others to join you in the plunge at 12 noon. The Oak Harbor High School Cheerleaders will be selling hot chocolate and hot cider as a fundraiser at the event; other donations will benefit the Help House and the Garage of Blessings. They are also accepting donations for a local non-profit looking for hats, gloves, and socks for kids, ages three to five.

You can participate in either or both, events. It’s free and open to the public. For more information, check out their Facebook page: “Oak Harbor Resolution 5k Run and Polar Bear Plunge.”

Kids of all ages participate in the Polar Bear Plunge, here at Freeland Park. (photos by David Welton)

Kids of all ages participate in the Polar Bear Plunge, shown here at Freeland Park.   (photo by David Welton)

Deb Crager is originally from the Midwest but has lived on the island for 24 years. She wrote the book “101 Things to do on Whidbey Island: for a Day, a Weekend, or a Lifetime” available on iPad and Kindle Fire.


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