Hearty souls by the hundreds

LACEY - One man wore a bikini. A father and son were dressed identically as tourists in matching Hawaiian shorts and straw hats, with sandals on their feet and sunblock on their noses. Another group wore costumes from "The Wizard of Oz."

These were just a few of the getups worn by revelers who woke up early Friday to start the new year off with a cold swim in the not-quite-icy waters of Long Lake. The celebration, known as the Polar Bear Plunge, is a tradition that started at Capitol Lake and now makes its home in Lacey. Swimmers were encouraged to bring canned goods for the local food bank, and by the end of the day a bin was filled with donated items.

A thermometer on the shore Friday showed a temperature of 52.5 degrees.

Byron Blount, who participates in the plunge every year, said the comparatively warm temperatures Friday brought in larger numbers. “Last year was cold,” Blount said. “Hopefully the dock’ll hold everybody.”

Organizers said the crowd – swimmers and onlookers – numbered about 600.

Why do they do it? It’s hard to find a good explanation.

“I’m not watching football,” Blount said.

Pierre Bell, who brought his girlfriend to the plunge, said he wanted “to start this year off with a shocker. Something new. Something fresh.”

Sarah Carr, dressed as Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz,” came all the way from Salem, Ore. She said she enjoys “the adrenaline rush” she gets from diving in the water. Carr was a ringer for Dorothy, right down to her ruby-colored shoes.

“I’ll definitely be think- ing there’s no place like home once I get in the water,” she said.

A light rain had started by the time organizers began the countdown to the plunge over a public-address system. The dock swayed gently with the weight of the swimmers as they eagerly awaited the go ahead to jump in.

“This is so cool, what a great way to start the new year,” said Dana Anderson after taking the plunge.

Grayson Court of Seattle was wearing silver paint as the Tin Man from “The Wizard of Oz.” His group included his fianceé dressed as the Cowardly Lion. He said his group wears differently themed costumes every year. He said no matter how many times he takes the plunge, the cold is always bracing. “It was freez- ing,” he said after emerging from the lake. “It’s still always a shock.