Some came in costume. Some came dressed like triathletes. All found the courage to take the Polar Bear Plunge on Thursday at the Point Defiance Marina.
People around the world marked New Year’s Day by jumping into oceans, rivers and lakes in a bracing welcome to 2015. The Point Defiance event, started in 2012 by Metro Parks Tacoma, drew 450 plungers this year and nearly as many observers.
Some participants, including a woman wearing a shiny purple cape emblazoned with “goddess,” merely stepped in and out of the water. Others took the full-body plunge from the dock multiple times.
Whatever the level of immersion, none spent much time in the 50-degree water. Air temperature hovered in the mid-30s.
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A few swimmers left the water yelling in victory. Others left screaming as if they’d just experienced an unspeakable horror. Some, such as Joseph Martinez, 17, were just left shivering.
“I would do it over and over again,” Martinez insisted through clenched teeth a few minutes after his plunge.
Next to him was his dripping-wet dad, Staff Sgt. Cuauhtemoc Ruiz Cruz. The Joint Base Lewis-McChord family had just taken their first plunge.
While Martinez slowly shuffled out of the water, his dad practically leaped out, shouting and punching the air in exultation.
“It’s the energy from jumping into the cold, cold water,” Ruiz Cruz explained.
Wife Virginia stood next to him, warm and dry. Her job: shooting video of the event.
“I’ve been talking about doing this for years and I finally did it. Twice,” Ruiz Cruz said, while his son continued to shiver uncontrollably.
The water Thursday was as clear as the sunny sky — save for the occasional jelly fish and suspicious oily slick.
Safety was a priority for Metro Parks at the free noon event. The U.S. Coast Guard was on hand to lend life vests. Tacoma firefighters stood watch, as did a line of lifeguards and scuba divers. Feet-first jumping was the rule of the day.
The mother-daughter team of Kehaunani and Katheryn Bracken were taking their first plunge together. It’s part of a series of challenges the Sumner pair is putting themselves through: mud runs, color runs and other events. The pair wore matching “In Russ we trust” T-shirts, knit hats and other Seattle Seahawks paraphernalia.
After the Brackens jumped, Kehaunani went back for a second dip so Katheryn could record her mother’s plunge.
“I’m all about the Facebook. I needed the video. If it’s not on Facebook, it never happened,” Kehaunani said.
“Guess what,” Katheryn said. “I got a bad video. She has to do it again.”
“No,” Kehaunani said. “Whatever it is, it is.”
The Brackens weren’t the only ones in costume. Some women wore dresses. So did a few men. One young woman in a rainbow-colored grass skirt and matching lei waded from the water carrying a cocktail glass with mini-umbrella.
While actual cocktails weren’t to be found, volunteers provided a steady stream of eagerly accepted hot beverages for the plungers. A nearby warming tent proved just as popular. Changing tents and a snack bar also were on scene.
It was difficult to find veterans of the plunge. Most people seemed to be there for the first time, perhaps for the novelty of the experience.
Monty Kabisch, 9, of Tacoma said he’d do it all over again even though it was the coldest water he’d ever been in.
“I kind of wanted to get out but I stayed in. It got easier,” he said. He managed about 20 seconds.
Other first timers weren’t so sure if they would return. As soon as Tabbe Smith, 11, of University Place jumped in, “I wanted to get out.” She put the odds of a repeat performance as a firm “maybe.”
Tabbe’s aunt and fellow swimmer Anne Smith said she’d do it again. “It’s not as cold as it seems. It’s the buildup that gets you.”
Chan Hei Chun, a Tacoma Community College student from Hong Kong, summed up her first plunge in true American vernacular.
“It’s cold but it’s cool.”