2014’s polar bears; record numbers brave the waters of Useless Bay

Lined up like a medieval army, men, women, children and the elderly let loose screams of courage Wednesday and charged the chilly waters of Useless Bay for the 10th annual Polar Bear Plunge.

Lunging, diving and in some cases tip-toeing, 190 people started the new year with a dip at Double Bluff park. Event officials estimate even more stood on the beach to watch the spectacle unfold.

“Probably about twice that amount were standing on the shores wondering, ‘Are you nuts?’ ” said Carrie Monforte, program coordinator for the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District in an email to The Record.

For recently engaged Roy Gordon and Nicole McClaskey of Coupeville, it was a great beginning for one of the biggest years of their lives.

“Starting the year of the wedding off with a bang,” said a dripping Gordon.

“It’s a new tradition,” added McClaskey, as this was their second year participating.

They noted the water was “really not that bad,” that the “adrenaline” seemed to dull the worst of Puget Sound’s frigid bite.

According to Monforte, the weather may have also played a role. While the water temperature was 44 degrees, the ambient air temperature was 43 degrees which technically made the water a warmer place to be than standing on shore in nothing but a swimsuit.

But not everyone felt the same way. Clinton resident Dominic Montaperto, 9, participated for the second time and said the water was a bit colder this year. The end result, however, was worth it.

“After, you feel good about yourself,” he said.

He added that the free hot chocolate offered later wasn’t bad either. In fact, it was particularly tasty, he said.

Montaperto’s contentment with the event seemed the common one. Of the hundreds of people who attended 2014’s plunge, smiles were abundant and families enjoyed the brisk swim and each other’s company.

“Our daughters look forward to this all year,” said Doug Weigel, a Bellevue resident with a home on Central Whidbey.

His family of four has participated every year for the past five years. It’s fun and an opportunity to share a memorable experience on the holiday, he said.

And perhaps settling the matter once and for all, his daughter Ilsa, 11, weighed in on the water’s temperature from within a cocoon of a tightly wrapped towel.

“It’s cold,” she said, with a grin.

The plunge is partly a fundraiser for the hungry, and Monforte said 123 pounds of canned and dried goods went to Good Cheer food bank. Event organizers also thanked the event’s sponsors.

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