Plunge into 2019

Hundreds of people are expected to turn out for the 2019 Polar Bear Dive in Freeland for an icy-cold jaunt in the water.

It will be on Jan. 1 at the Double Bluff Beach in Freeland. Registration begins at 10:30 a.m. and the plunge starts at noon.

The annual celebration of the new year first began in the early 2000s, according to organizer Jon Gabelein from the Island County 4-H Teen Leadership Club.

Years ago, he got the idea to start the tradition while eating ice cream with friends at Dairy Queen, pondering what could be done as a fun fundraiser for youth leadership programs in the community.

It’s proved to be popular.

“Many participants have said that surviving this challenge on day one of the new year helps to make facing any of their upcoming obstacles less of an issue,” Gabelein said in an email. “For many, it is ‘52 seconds of fury’… and it is also found to be a fun and crazy way to start the year and hang out with some true islanders. It is has been proven to be Whidbey Island’s “coolest” community event of the year.”

South Whidbey Parks & Recreation supervisor Carrie Monforte said she expects between 150 to 200 jumpers to show up.

“And then there’s usually about twice that on the shore watching,” she said. “The ones that are keeping the car warm.”

Why do people subject themselves to such cold waters?

“Just for fun,” she said. “Its a lively way to start the new year. Its a really lively atmosphere and it’s a a family tradition for a lot of people.”

The event costs $15 and includes an official event shirt and a hot drink of coffee or cocoa. All proceeds from benefit the Island County 4-H Teen Leadership Club activities.

Monforte suggests that people register in advance online by Dec. 28 to avoid lines on the day of the event, and to ensure they get a correctly-sized t-shirt.

Don’t forget to bundle up: the temperature is typically warmer in the water than outside the water, she said.

“It’s often colder than 40 degrees.”

The event may be titled a “dive,” but for most people “its more like run into the water up to your knees splash around , but no diving,” she said, because the water is both cold and shallow.

Bring a towel and things to get warm and dry quickly afterwards, she said.

“It’s pretty low key,” she said.

Last year, they had 120 polar bear divers and raised $1,019 after expenses for the 4-H Teen Leadership.

She’s done the dive herself, she said, usually afterwards with friends as she’s pretty busy taking registration during the event.

“It’s a freezing shock to the system,” she said.

“It’s a fun way to start the new year — taking life a little bit lightly.”

And a bit chilly, too.

• More information about the event can be found on the Facebook page “Whidbey Island Polar Bear Dive” or by contacting South Whidbey Parks & Rec at 360-221-6788. Youth interesting in becoming involved in the 4H leadership program can contact

When: Tuesday Jan. 1 Registration opens at 10:30 a.m. Jump happens at noon.

Where: Double Bluff Beach, Freeland.

Cost: $15 to register (includes an official limited-edition event t-shirt and free coffee/cocoa.)

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