By Jason KUROSU
The first light of 2013 welcomed those who stayed up through the night to see it, others who chose to remain in bed, and still others at the Hansen Dam Aquatic Center, who chose to christen the New Year by plunging themselves into freezing water at the annual Polar Bear Swim.
A tradition held around the world for those courageous enough to endure it, the Polar Bear Swim drew a crowd of likeminded brave souls who waded, splashed and yelped about in waters which could be mistaken for the Arctic Ocean or perhaps liquid nitrogen. Since 2000, the Hansen Dam Aquatic Center has hosted the Polar Bear Swim in its 1.5-acre manmade lake located in the San Fernando Valley.
Though not quite reaching the epic magnitude of the Long Beach Super Bowl Splash or the 10,000 person a year dive at Scheveningen, Netherlands, the local Polar Bear Swim has generated many participants over the last decade, those for whom coffee is ill-suited to awake on early mornings.
Whole families dove into the waters heedlessly like lemmings, even taking their small children (8 years and older) with them. Lifeguards were on hand during the proceedings, though with each participant only staying in the water for a few minutes, the risks of drowning or hypothermia were minimal.
“It was bracing,” said Jim Murphy after the swim. Murphy would not go so far as to call himself a seasoned veteran of the Polar Bear Swim, though it was not his first.
“I’m usually a rational carbon-based life form, but I’ll resign every once in a while for occasions like this.”
Bonfires were set up for the participants who huddled near the flames, draped in towels and bathrobes.
“I saw it as a mental challenge,” said Gabrielle Dagan-Winstead, who attended the swim with her family and was similarly robed and taking in the warmth of a bonfire.
Dagan-Winstead and the others met that challenge and survived, for this year at least.