DOUBLE BLUFF — Shivering, huddling and pacing, some 175 brave fools ventured into the frigid waters New Year’s Day.
These Whidbey Island Polar Bears were young and old, man and woman and cold, very cold.
“Still can’t feel my feet,” said 17-year-old Austin Pulley of Oak Harbor after a few minutes out of Double Bluff’s waters even while donning aqua socks.
“Started off the new year on a bad foot,” added 15-year-old Dakota Dammen, Pulley’s cousin.
Deceiving the hundreds of people lining the shore of Double Bluff Beach was a clear, sunny sky with only wispy clouds on the first day of 2013. It belied the freezing air temperature and the chilly waters, around 48 degrees, surrounding Whidbey Island.
From mid-morning until noon, hundreds of people meandered around the Island County park. Cars lined Double Bluff Road a quarter-mile from the small parking lot toward Highway 525. Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” blared from a couple of PA speakers as the “polar bears” registered with the South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District and grabbed a 2013 Polar Bear Dive T-shirt.
Suspense mounted as wristwatches ticked and tocked closer to noon. A false reading led a handful of swimmers to shed a few layers, baring lots of skin to the soft, cool wind earlier than was necessary.
Finally, the South Whidbey Fire/EMS ambulance sirens wailed. Yet, the divers were still timid, each waiting for someone else to be brave enough to charge into the gently lapping waves. Then, like a bursting dam, a surge of people sprinted into the water, churning the deep blue sea into a frothing white spray.
Pulley and Dammen’s party of six yelled “Guns up,” as they hoisted imaginary pistols into the sky before high-stepping into the water. The problem of Double Bluff Beach is the same thing that makes it idyllic in the summer: it’s shallow. So rather than just jumping in and getting the dive over with, these polar bears waded out for 10, 15, 20 yards before being waist deep (except for the young kids).
For six-year-old Isis-Angellica McGhee, the water was deep enough in a hurry. But with her father Trever McGhee at the ready, and hardly phased by the water, Isis-Angellica stayed in the bay for minutes while others hurried out of the water and into sweat pants.
The annual Whidbey Island Polar Bear Dive gives people a chance to remember their start to a new year and helps the 4-H Teen Ambassador program. Good Cheer also benefited because the dive promoted bringing canned food and cash donations in exchange for a registration discount.
A total of 158 people registered for the dive, a small increase from the 150 registrants last year.
But many more participated both in an official and unofficial capacity because the park is a public space. Event organizers ran out of the event shirts long before the noon dive, a signal that the new year swim was growing.
“Definitely more than last year,” said Carrie Monforte, South Whidbey parks program manager.
As in past years, there were no medical emergencies that required the attention of South Whidbey Fire/EMS volunteers on the scene.