Polar bears dip into new year at Double Bluff Beach Park

It was a chilly, but brave start to 2017 for over 100 people who participated in a New Year’s swim on Sunday.

Temperatures were in the mid-30s when 146 people charged into the frigid waters at Double Bluff Beach Park for the 13th annual Polar Bear Plunge.

For Doug and Stacy Weigel’s family, Sunday marked the eighth consecutive year they’ve participated in the New Year’s event. The Weigels, who live in Bellevue but own a house in Coupeville, have just one family rule when it comes to the plunge.

“You’ve got to fully submerge or it doesn’t count,” Doug Weigel said.

The Weigels said they were surprised to see beautiful, sunny skies when they woke up Sunday morning. But the sun did little to stymie the effects of the cold water.

“It was chilly,” Doug Weigel said. “We love coming out here and doing this. We hope to do it for many, many more years.”

Though most were probably distracted by the cold sensation of the water, there were health benefits to jumping in, said Dr. Sarah Chappelle, a naturopath at Whidbey ND in Freeland.

Chappelle, who was participating in the plunge for the third time, said a small amount of stress pushes against the immune system when someone makes contact with the cold water. A person’s immune system is then amplified to compensate.

Chappelle said that in addition to improved immune system response, there are other positives to roaring into the water.

“I think there’s something very cathartic about screaming your head off,” Chappelle said.

Chappelle said similar events take place all around the world in the middle of winter, especially in “Blue Zones,” a demographic or geographic area of the world where people live measurably longer lives.

“People heal themselves with all sorts of things by jumping into cold lakes and rivers,” Chappelle said.

Rich Bacigalupi and Carol Griswold of Langley said the plunge was a “great” way to mark the New Year. While she admitted it was still cold, Griswold said her body better adapted to the conditions in her second year participating.

“The first time we did it, I was more aware of the pins and needles,” Griswold said. “This time it was less. Maybe we’re getting used to it.”

Carrie Monforte, program coordinator for South Whidbey, said there were approximately 321 people on the beach participating and spectating. People came from all over South Whidbey as well as Oak Harbor, Coupeville, Greenbank, Bellevue and Mukilteo.

The event benefitted the Island County 4-H Teen Ambassadors. It was a success in the eyes of Jon Gabelein, an advisor for the teen ambassadors. Gabelein said feedback from participants was positive.

“It was a very cool event,” Gabelein said. “They loved the opportunity to get out here with true islanders and start the year off in a very cool way.”