Story last updated at 1/7/2009 - 11:11 am
JUNEAU - On Jan. 1, 1994, a party of five decided to take a dive. To Mary Bardone, Bill Platte, Barbara Greening, Eva Ceder, and Len Ceder, it seemed like a brilliant idea to jump into the icy waters of the inside passage without wearing any sort of synthetic body insulation. They liked it so much that it became a New Year's tradition. Word of the plunge spread like wildfire, and by the second year the event had about four times as many people participating.
"It's sort of just ballooned over the years," said Len Ceder, one of the founders of Juneau's Polar Bear Dip.
On New Year's Day, they celebrated their 16th annual dip, which took place at the Auke Bay Recreational Area. There were at least 100 people in attendance. Some acted simply as spectators and support crew, but most of the crowd actually dipped. Standard attire was a bathing suit, though from year to year some attendees have dipped in costume.
"It's darn cold when it's this kind of weather," Ceder said. He named this year as the coldest in his memory. The air temperature hovered around just above zero degrees that afternoon. As a precaution, there were several emergency response volunteers present who could revive frozen patrons and administer emergency aid if necessary. So far, there have never been any post-plunge health crises at the Juneau dip.
Ice-water swimming events are becoming quite popular around the nation. Perhaps people want to know what it feels like to be a polar bear, or maybe the adrenaline junkies are running out of stunt ideas. For some, it is becoming somewhat of a pilgrimage. Ceder recalled one woman in her 70's who attended the event a few years ago. She had been traveling the country trying her best to jump into as many bodies of chilled water as she could find.
Even in warm climates the activity is still made possible by filling pools with ice water, which is becoming common in states like Florida. But Alaskans get to experience the real thing.
"It's a good way to start the year," Ceder said.
After emerging from the water, participants thawed themselves by the fire, enjoyed treats from the cookie potluck, and many made plans to defrost even further in their friends' hot tubs. Each dipper also received an "I did the dip!" certificate.
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