Hundreds brace for chilly Olalla plunge

It isn’t about plunging into the 50-degree waters of Olalla Bay — it’s about doing so with style. - File photo
It isn’t about plunging into the 50-degree waters of Olalla Bay — it’s about doing so with style.
— image credit: File photo

Here’s a little known fact to warm the hearts of Polar Bear plungers — the water temperature of Olalla Bay only varies by about 2 degrees from summer to winter.

“So if you’ve ever jumped into the water in the middle of the summer,” Jon Forseth explains, “the only difference between then and now is the temperature out of the water is colder now, too, so it isn’t as hard to get used to it.”

Forseth, like hundreds of others, will be taking the Polar Bear Plunge at noon on New Years Day — just as they have since he and 10 others first braved the icy waters in 1984.

It’s since grown into a local tradition and one of the largest Polar Bear events in the region.

“Maybe it’s a foolish thing to do,” he said, “but if so, I’m a bigger fool than most because I’ve done it every year.”

Forseth took over this year as the event organizer following the death in June of John Robbecke, owner of Al’s Grocery, which sat across the street from the bridge/diving platform until the store closed earlier this year.

“I called Wendi (Robbecke) a few weeks ago to see if I could help keep the thing going,” Forseth said. “She asked if I wanted to take it over completely, and I said I would.”

There’s no entry fee, but there are several informal rules plungers must follow.

First, Forseth said, the event begins with the firing of a ceremonial cannon at noon.

“No plunges before then will be considered official,” he said.

Second, although costumes are encouraged, no wetsuits are allowed.

“The newspaper ran a big picture a few years ago of a kid in a wetsuit,” Forseth said. “That didn’t sit too well with those of us who plunge in bare skin.”

Lastly, Forseth said a regulation plunge requires getting one’s entire body wet.

“I’ve seen people walk out in the water up to their knees and think they’re a Polar Bear,” he said. “They ain’t.”

This year’s event doubles as a fundraiser for the Peninsula Food Bank, and participants are encouraged to bring a canned food donation.

Forseth said the size of the crowd is usually dictated by the weather.

“Cold is good,” he said, “but rain doesn’t help.”

In any case, parking is scare, so plungers and spectators are encouraged to arrive early.

“The closer to noon you get there,” Forseth said, “the farther you’ll have to walk.”

Got photos?

If you’re taking a camera to this year’s Polar Bear Plunge, share your best shots of your loved one braving hypothermia with us. E-mail your photos to along with a brief description of who’s in the picture and we may publish them either online or in next week’s paper.

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