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'Polar Bears' jump into Olalla Bay on New Year's Day

Sunny but cold weather brought out hundreds of participants for the 2011 Polar Bear Plunge on New Years Day in Olalla. - Jeff Rhodes/Staff Photo
Sunny but cold weather brought out hundreds of participants for the 2011 Polar Bear Plunge on New Years Day in Olalla.
— image credit: Jeff Rhodes/Staff Photo

About 600 people jumped into Olalla Bay on New Year’s Day, in spite of weather cold enough to freeze puddles along the road.

“It’s a beautiful day and a good turnout,” said the Jon Forseth, who has participated in the event since 1984 and organized it this year.

“On a snowy or rainy day, you can expect about 300 to 400 people, but on a beautiful, sunny day like this, you can expect 600 to 1,000,” he said, standing by the lake.

And each year since the event started, Polar Bear plungers have dropped approximately 20 feet from a bridge to the nearly freezing water beneath on New Year’s Day.

“It was fun because you fly through the air really fast,” said 7-year-old Ean Paterson, as he sat near a fire.

But not everyone enjoyed the jump as much.

“I’ve been dreading it for two months now,” said Krystal Iyall, with a smile.

“Anticipating it is the bad part,” she said. “Not so much the water, especially when you’ve done it before.”

Iyall said she had been doing the polar bear plunge with her dad for four years, and mainly just likes doing it, because it’s a chance for them to create a memory together.

Dave Surowiec also said that the best part about the event is the way it brings together the community.

“It’s fun to see them here to bring in the New Year,” he said.

Tory Lewis, who’s participated in the event for several years, said the same thing.

“Olalla’s a really small town, and it’s fun to have something where everyone shows up,” she said. “It’s like a family reunion.”

This year, though, the family was missing a patriarch.

John Robbecke, who has run the event since 1984, died in June.

And Al’s Grocery, which Robbecke owned, sat across the street from the bridge and diving platform, dark and vacant since Robbecke’s death.

Outside the old grocery store, several volunteers from the Masonic Lodge at Gig Harbor, sold food and sweatshirts, and collected canned food donations.

They plan to donate the proceeds to the Peninsula Food Bank.

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