Let's go take the dive

 - file photo
— image credit: file photo

Jon Gabelein jokes that it's "29 seconds of fury."

Calle Gambill, 13, said it's "really fun and a great way to start the New Year."

Other people call it the most chilling experience of their life and that it's like a thousand needles racing toward your head.

Gambill doesn't agree.

"I felt refreshed after doing it," Gambill said.

Either way, somehow, everyone who took the inaugural South Whidbey Polar Bear Dive last year agrees -- it's just plain fun.

With Thanksgiving barely in the past, and Christmas only a glimmer in the distance, Gabelein, the organizer for the Polar Bear Dive, wants people to start recruiting and encouraging friends, family and co-workers to take the dive.

"We know there are football games to watch and other things to occupy people's time that day," Gabelein said.

"But you can't pass up a chance to come gather as community and build camaraderie in a crazy, random and absolutely memorable time," he said.

The Second Annual South Whidbey Polar Bear Dive will take place at noon on New Year's Day in the chilly Holmes Harbor waters at Freeland Park.

Fire truck horns will once again sound, signaling the moment boys, girls, men and women become polar bears.

"It's a great challenge, to jump in cold water, you know," Gabelein said. "Hopefully people will think, 'Hey if I can do this, maybe all that other stuff I have to do in 2006 won't be as tough.'"

Last year 62 people jumped, ranging in age from 6 to 74.

Gabelein was only expecting 25 people to show for the dip, based on preregistration for T-shirts.

But when the day of the event arrived that number was doubled, and a 100 or so more came just for the entertainment factor.

"It turned into a huge spectator sport for the people on land," Gabelein said.

It was a family affair for Gambill and her brother Donald, 8, and their father Don Gambill.

After Don saw an announcement about last year's dive, he coaxed his kids to take the plunge while mom opted out and stayed on shore. She had a good reason, though; there was a newborn in the family.

Calle Gambill said she was the last person off the dock.

"It was kind of scary to jump in a first, but then you just jump, it's cold and you run to shore and it's over," she said. "It wasn't bad at all, I'd do it again."

Members of the South Whidbey Endurance Athlete Team ran a couple of miles around South Whidbey before they took their plunge into the harbor. Look for them to once again hit the roads before this year's dive.

The dive is open to ages 6 to 106. Anyone under 18 just needs to bring parent permission.

The cost is $10, or three jumpers for $20, and includes the big jump, warm

refreshments and official Polar Bear Dive shirts. Following Polar Bear tradition, proceeds benefit local charities. Last year more than $300 was raised for the Family Resource Center.

Proceeds from this year's dive will go to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County, which will have volunteers at the dive to help register people and pass out the hot refreshments.

"It's always great to be a part of something out there in the community, and this is a great show of support for us," said Peggy Stanford, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County.

In addition to South Whidbey Parks and Recreation, sponsors for this year's dive are Les Schwab, Murphy's Home Furnishings, Linds Drug, Whidbey Coffee, Island Roofing Systems, Mukilteo Coffee, Island Drug and Verizon.

The increased sponsorship will mean that T-shirt printing costs will be covered and more of the entry fees will go to charity.

The shirts are co-designed by Pam and Frank Jacques of Langley. The limited edition garments will be a new new tri-color design on ice-blue shirts.

The Jacques jumped last year and their T-shirt designing has only been a warm up for taking the dive again.

"Having jumped last year makes it a little harder to do this year because I know how cold it is and know what to expect. But it's still going to be fun," Pam Jacques said.

The couple is among a growing group of southenders who would like to see the Polar Bear Dive become a regular event on the island.

"We hope it becomes a signature event and that Whidbey becomes a destination because of a number of events such as the marathon, the dive and the Chum Run," Jacques said.

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