Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Hardy Souls Take The Plunge To Ring In 2013

City of Vancouver

For thousands of people around the Northwest, the way to start the New Year off right is with a dip in frigid water.

A so-called "Polar Bear Plunge" - or "swim" or "dip" - is a long time tradition in more than 20 different Northwest cities and towns. Numerous home videos posted online show the shivering anticipation, then a surge of people -- often costumed -- splashing into the water, followed seconds later by a surge in reverse.

Why does anyone do this, especially with the water temperature around 47 degrees or colder? Seattle organizer Janet Wilson says it’s a great way to "wash off the old year" and start fresh.

"I think they do it because it's wild and crazy and it just really makes you feel like you've celebrated a new year," she says.

Vancouver, Canada has cultivated the tradition the longest in the Northwest. Their polar bear swim dates back to 1920, making this New Year's the 93rd edition.

The Seattle Parks Department has one tip: it says fortifying your courage with alcohol is actually a bad idea because it accelerates hypothermia.

On the Web:

Video: 2011 Polar Bear Plunge in Seattle (YouTube)
Map: Coastal Water Temperatures (NOAA)

Polar Bear Plunges, Dips and Swims on Jan. 1, 2013:


  • Seattle: Noon, Matthews Beach Park. "Polar Cub Plunge" precedes main plunge for kids and people who need a little bit more room. This is the 11th annual plunge at Matthews Beach. Lifeguards to be present. Seattle Fire Dept. fire boat salute possible. Organizers expect around 1,800 participants.
  • West Seattle: 10am, Alki Beach across from Duke's restaurant. "On January 1, 2013, West Seattle will attempt to reach 1,000 swimmers participating."
  • Seattle: 10:30am. Resolution Run and Polar Bear Dive is a 5K fun run that includes a detour down the Magnuson Park boat ramp into chilly Lake Washington, where participants must totally submerge or be disqualified.
  • Blaine, WA: 11am, costume judging at 10:30am. 30th annual Birch Bay Polar Bear Plunge at waterfront near Birch Bay Chamber Visitor Info Center, 7900 Birch Bay Drive.
  • Kirkland, WA: 1pm, Marina Park in downtown Kirkland. The 11th annual edition in this community.
  • Lacey, WA: Noon-1:30pm (plunge is at 1:00 pm) Long Lake Park; "costumes encouraged." For info: 360-491-0857
  • Lake Padden, WA: Noon, Lake Padden bathhouse. Polar Bear Dip follows "Resolution Run/Walk."
  • Marrowstone Island, WA: Noon, Nordland General Store dock on Mystery Bay. No wetsuits allowed according to the host, the general store owner.
  • Neah Bay, WA: 10am, behind Neah Bay Senior Center. This will be the 11th annual edition.
  • Orcas Island, WA: 11am, Cascade Lake in Moran State Park. Benefits Orcas Island Rowing club.
  • Port Angeles, WA: 10am, Hollywood Beach. This will be the 25th annual Port Angeles Polar Bear Plunge. Water temp in the Strait of Juan de Fuca is about 47 degrees.
  • Renton, WA: 11am, Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park. This one is called the "Polar Bear Dip."
  • Tacoma: 11:30am, Point Defiance Marina in Point Defiance Park
  • Whidbey Island, WA: Noon, registration opens at 11 am, Double Bluff Beach, near Freeland. Fee: $15, includes event shirt and benefits 4-H Leadership activities.


  • Charleston/Coos Bay, OR: 9:00am, Sunset Bay State Park, Cape Arago Hwy. This plunge is now a 27 year tradition.
  • Corvallis, OR: 1-4pm, Osborn Aquatic Center. $5 per person.
  • Sunriver, OR: 10am, Sunriver Lodge Village Pool. Free. "Hot chocolate will be served to warm your bones."


  • Boise: 10am, Spring Shores Marina on Lucky Peak Reservoir, east of Boise. The Great Polar Bear Challenge is an annual fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation of Idaho.
  • Coeur d’Alene, Idaho: Noon, Sanders Beach. Lake Coeur d'Alene is presently about 40 degrees warm. Roughly 500 people expected.
  • Hayden, Idaho: 12 noon, Honeysuckle Beach on Hayden Lake.
  • Ketchum, Idaho: Noon, “Polar Bear Hole” of the icy Big Wood River (located near the Ketchum Skate Park)

British Columbia

  • Vancouver, BC: 2:30pm, English Bay Beach. This is the 93rd edition of Vancouver's Polar Bear Swim.
Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.