By Mellow DeTray

New Year’s Day 2023: It was the second annual Polar Bear Plunge at the Des Moines Marina, and my first time joining the shenanigans.

I am no stranger to the joys of a cold dip, but it usually follows a long soak in a hot tub or sauna. Going straight into icy water in the depths of winter has never appealed to me, and I thought the people who chose this of all days of the year to take to the water had to be a little nuts.

However, several members of my local running group participated the previous year and a few planned to do it this time, so there was a lot of encouragement. Misery loves company, I guess. Along with the encouragement, I was also regaled with stories of the pain of the icy water, which was especially bad on the feet as participants in 2022 had to walk out so far along the shallow beach, before the water became deep enough to fully plunge in. And yes, you have to get your head under water for it to count.

With the mindset that I might as well start the year off with something hugely difficult so the rest of 2023 would feel easy, I armed myself with a cozy robe for after the plunge, as well as neoprene booties, wetsuit gloves, and a warm hat. If I had to walk a long way through shallow freezing water I may as well keep my extremities as comfortable as possible. As luck would have it, a recent king tide had washed loads of driftwood up onto the normal access point at the Marina Park, so the event was moved over to a boat ramp that would provide safer access. This move also allowed immediate access to deeper water, which I think we were all grateful for.

The crowd was surprisingly large. I don’t know official numbers but there might have been 50 people in the water, and at least that many offering support while staying warm on dry land. After taking a group picture, we all gathered at the top of the boat ramp and the 2023 Polar Bear Plunge was officially started. Many people ran right in, racing each other or just trying to make it quick, I’m not sure which.

I am a little more cautious, waiting for the racers to go by before making my deliberate way in to about waist deep. The water did not hurt in the least, though I didn’t give it time to. While I didn’t rush, I was happy to exit after a brief plunge. At the top of the boat ramp, my support team held my warm bathrobe. But I wasn’t cold! I felt alive, invigorated, bright-eyed and ready to go again. I didn’t want to wait until next year, either. So I dropped that robe and trod right back down the boat ramp and into the frightfully cold water for another plunge.

The water was still bustling, with many people just arriving and going in for the first time, or even people who stayed in for several minutes at a time. One young boy, we found out later, excitedly did three plunges. There were kids and teenagers, as well as adults of all ages. What a great way to bring the community together: People with all kinds of interests and backgrounds, but who are all, for some reason, drawn to the challenge, the thrill, or even the health benefits of a cold plunge.

Here are videos of the plunge:

And another, courtesy Karen Utterback:

Following the plunge and some photos with the inflatable polar bear mascot, we made our way along with the crowd to the Quarterdeck, where hot chocolate with whipped cream and an enticing array of treats were provided. A raffle was set up with many polar bear themed prizes. There were also prizes for winners of the holiday drinks Bingo, a promotional activity to support local businesses during the month of December. I don’t know if my stars were aligned or what, but my name was drawn for both a raffle prize and the drinks Bingo. This feels like the start of a great year, and I already look forward to doing another Polar Bear Plunge next New Year’s day. I may not even wait until then.

Mellow DeTray is a Seattle native who has spent the last 16 years raising her family in Burien. She has volunteered at many local establishments over the years, including the Burien Library, Burien Actors Theatre, and Hot Feet Fitness. After working for ten years at Burien Community Center, she moved on to teaching fitness classes and to work the front desk of a Burien yoga studio. For many years Mellow kept a moderately popular cooking & lifestyle blog, and she had a brief stint in political journalism during a local election. Clear and informative writing has always been a side hobby of Mellow’s and she looks forward to bringing you unbiased coverage of City Council meetings.