The 31st annual Polar Bear Plunge presented this dilemma Friday: It was warmer to get into the water than it was to stand around and observe hundreds of crazy, fun-loving people ring in the new year with a splash.
That’s because the air temperature was about 25 degrees at Lacey’s Long Lake Park — the site of the annual plunge since 2008 — while the water temperature was a relatively balmy 38 degrees.
And that likely reduced the number of people who came to watch. Still, hundreds jumped off an L-shaped dock coated in a thick layer of frost for their annual soaking. About 500 took part, participants and observers. A bald eagle watched from above.
When the weather is relatively warm and dry, attendance soars, said David Sederberg, the founder of the plunge, who attended the event Friday after a long absence.
Sederberg said he was inspired to create the local plunge after reading about a similar event in The Olympian in 1983. The following year, he and a friend traveled to Vancouver, B.C., to take part in a plunge there, but realized that made for a very long and cold drive home.
Finally, in 1985, Sederberg and two others christened the local plunge by walking into Capitol Lake. The following year, the gathering grew to 17 people and has expanded ever since, he said.
Around 2008, he got tired of organizing the event, preferring to travel with family over the holidays, so the city of Lacey took over organizational duties and moved it to Long Lake Park.
Sederberg’s daughter, Whitney, and her friend, Eloise, both 11, participated in their first plunge Friday. Dad’s advice: Wear shoes and loose-fitting clothing that can be removed quickly, then towel off after the plunge and get back to the car.
Before the 1 p.m. start, the city created a party-like atmosphere. There was music, hot cocoa and hot popcorn.
During the collective dive into the water, the city traditionally pays tribute to a musician who died the previous year. This year’s song was “You Sexy Thing” by the band Hot Chocolate. Lead singer Errol Brown died in May.
Taking part Friday was Lacey City Councilman Michael Steadman. Last year, he dove in head first. This year, he took a more conservative approach by wearing more clothing and jumping in feet first.
Many wore more clothes than in previous years, with fewer participants arriving in bikinis and none in a Speedo. Some people came in costume, and one guy jumped in with a beer keg.
“After getting cold and wet, the year can only get better,” Steadman said.