LACEY - Erik Solveson of Lacey did the unthinkable Saturday by jumping into frigid Long Lake - water temperature 35 degrees - wearing only a Speedo.
He didn’t just jump in once. He did it twice.
Solveson was not alone, though, as hundreds of people joined him Saturday afternoon in an annual New Year’s Day tradition known as the Polar Bear Plunge. About 300 people jumped from a dock or waded into the lake from the shore, while nearly 1,000 people came to watch, gawking or pointing in disbelief at what their friends and family members were about to do.
Lacey recreation supervisor Mary Coppin said it was one of the biggest showings in the four years the event has been held at Long Lake, likely because of the sunny weather. But while the skies were clear, it also was one of the coldest plunges because of the sub-freezing temperatures, she said. Ice had formed on part of the lake, and a thermometer set up for the event showed the air temperature was 30 degrees before the 1 p.m. plunge.
People began gathering before noon and then walked out onto the L-shaped dock as the plunge time approached. Some were fully clothed, some wore bikinis. One girl came dressed as Alice in Wonderland, and Santa Claus was there as well.
Brothers Derek and Nick Wenzel of Olympia, along with friend Sarah Carr, came dressed as a family of Smurfs, complete with blue body paint. All three, who have become regulars at the event, said it was one of the coldest plunges. Nick Wenzel called it “shockingly cold.”
Anthony Thach of Lacey returned for his second Polar Bear Plunge with his sister Angkor, who was there for the first time.
“It’s something cool to do for the new year,” she said.
It was so cold, Anthony said, he swam to the shore so fast after jumping in that he would’ve “beaten (Olympic swimmer) Michael Phelps.”
Paul Haxton of Lacey stood shivering after the plunge, towel wrapped around his shoulders. “It’s never been this cold,” said the five-time plunger.
Solveson, who is North Thurston High School’s swim captain, thought about doing a backstroke after he jumped into the lake, then got out and jumped in again. He was joined by friends who said that afterward they were all headed to get some coffee.
Jumping or wading into the lake isn’t the only Polar Bear Plunge tradition, Coppin said.
They also honor a musician who died the previous year, and this time it was heavy metal rocker Ronnie James Dio, who died in May. As soon as everyone jumped into the lake, Dio’s “Long Live Rock ’n’ Roll” was played on the loudspeakers. Other songs played for the plunge included Ozzy Osbourne’s “Let Me Hear You Scream” and the Village People’s “Macho Man.”
Lacey Fire, Thurston County Medic One and lifeguards were on hand to make sure everyone stayed safe.
Taking a cold plunge wasn’t the only organized activity in South Sound dedicated to welcoming in the new year.
Bill and Trish Stevenson led a bike ride on the roads around Olympia and then hosted a potluck meal at their Lorne Street home. Now in its 13th year, the Capital Bicycling Club of Olympia event that once attracted five or six riders now draws about 50 people.
“Our house is only so big. If we have another good turnout, we might have to think of another venue for next year,” Bill Stevenson said.
“It’s always nice to get an early start on the cycling season. A lot of people start the new year with some ideas of things in their life they want to change. It’s a nice first step for people,” Stevenson said.
In the past, a few riders have also taken part in the Polar Bear swim, Stevenson said, “as if riding in the rain and snow wasn’t enough.”
Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403 firstname.lastname@example.org
Staff writer Jeffrey P. Mayor contributed to this report.