Participants in the 2016 Port Angeles Polar Bear Plunge dash in and out of the chilly water of Port Angeles Harbor at Hollywood Beach on New Year's Day. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Participants in the 2016 Port Angeles Polar Bear Plunge dash in and out of the chilly water of Port Angeles Harbor at Hollywood Beach on New Year's Day. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Peninsula residents plunge into new year with cold-water dips

At least 245 people plunged into the new year with a dip in cold water today during North Olympic Peninsula Polar Bear Plunges.

The 28th annual Port Angeles Polar Bear Plunge drew the most people of any of the four plunges on the Peninsula, with about 150 people charging into the water off Hollywood Beach at 10 a.m. today.

Most ran into the water three times, immersing themselves in the chilly Port Angeles Harbor.

Participants began gathering at the beach at about 9 a.m. — building bonfires to stay warm after exiting the water.

“You can tell [the participants] are just having a lot of fun,” Welden said.

“I mean, everybody is numb coming out of there. Some people think they are dumb also, but it is just a good thing.

“Chilly is good for you,” Welden said.

Gery Gudgell, 68, of Port Angeles, has participated in the event for the last four years, he said.

“I like the wake-up,” he said Friday while warming next to a campfire on the beach in a bath robe.

“It is a wake-up call for the new year. It is exhilarating. I love the water anyway and this is just another celebration.”

This was the first year friends Suzie Bennett, 30, and Jenalee Charles, 31, both of Port Angeles, participated in the plunge.

The cold water felt like “pins and needles,” Bennett said.

“It is a crazy way to start the new year,” Charles said.

The Polar Bear Challenge, held in conjunction with the plunge, raised well over $800 during the event, Welden said.

The money will benefit Volunteer Hospice of Clallam County.

A final tally of the money raised will not be available for about a week, Welden said.

Participants in the plunge were not required to be a part of the challenge.

As part of the game, individuals and organizations challenged others to make the plunge — and pledged a dollar amount to make the challenge.

If the challenged person or business accepted, challengers donate that amount to the agency that provides free care for eligible terminally ill patients and their families.

Marrowstone Island

The 22nd annual Mystery Bay Polar Bear plunge at Nordland on Marrowstone Island drew fewer participants than in past years but they were no less enthusiastic.

According to the sign-in sheet, 87 people participated, down from last year’s total of 130.

Organizer Tom Rose, the owner of Nordland General Store, said he expected more people to participate because of the clear weather and the relatively high temperature in the low 40s, but that it was “still really great.”

Participants lined up on the dock outside the store just before noon. A horn sounded and they all jumped at once.

Most of the jumpers were in and out of the water in 10 minutes.

During the next 10 minutes, stragglers took their first leap while others jumped in a second time.

One of those, Chuck Sparks of Portland, said he was “going in for the Ducks,” referring to the University of Oregon’s football team.

Beaver

Out at Lake Pleasant at Beaver near Forks, eight people gathered to dip into the freezing waters at 10 a.m., said Carin Hirsch, an organizer.

Hirsch said the water temperature in the lake was about 32 degrees.

But that was nothing compared to the wind chill, she said.

“There was a 20 mile-per-hour wind blowing,” she said.

“It was cold. Very cold.”

With the wind, “I think it was colder waiting then it was when you went in,” she said.

And, getting out, the wind’s harsh wintery breath was even more pronounced, she said.

Carin Hirsch, 58, is the mother of the plunge founder, Sonja Hirsch, who has since moved to Seattle to start a family.

Neah Bay

Participants in the Neah Bay plunge could not be reached for comment today.

The 15th annual Neah Bay Polar Bear Dip was founded by June Williams in 2001.

She was experiencing health issues and said she “had nothing to lose.”

Williams said the first jump was shocking but cathartic.

“I got better every year after that,” she said.

About 20 others join her in the dip each year, she said last week.

Today’s dip was scheduled to take place at noon at Front Beach on Bayview Avenue near the senior citizens building.

Afterward, the group was planning to celebrate with hot soup, cocoa and games,Williams said.

________

Reporter Chris McDaniel can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or cmcdaniel@peninsuladailynews.com.

Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

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