700 Swimmers Take the Polar Bear Plunge in Jacksonport

Original Polar Bear J.R. Jarosh steps into the water in his swimming suit – or should we say swimming tux. Photo by Len Villano.

It was 32 degrees in the water and just 24 in the air, but Sue Jarosh insisted it was a beautiful day for swimming.

“The temperature is cold, but that is not a factor,” Jarosh said. “The sun is out and the wind is down, and that is key.”

2013 marked the 27th Polar Bear Plunge at Lakeside Park in Jacksonport, when every New Year’s Day a crowd of brave swimmers jumps into a chilly Lake Michigan to celebrate. An estimated 700 swimmers plunged this year, making the Jacksonport Polar Bear Plunge one of the largest in the country.

The plunge began in 1986 with just one swimmer, J.R. Jarosh, and has since grown into the main event of Door County New Year’s celebrations. This year was no different. Culver’s of Sturgeon Bay’s mascot, Scoopie, was near the registration booth handing out coupons, Dave Gohr of Loud Entertainment DJ Service blasted energetic music across the snowy beach and plungers dressed up in costumes, kilts and suits.

Many veteran plungers were there to again solidify their positions as polar bears, the highly esteemed and well-deserved title given to Polar Bear Plunge participants.

Carley Frea, a six-time polar bear, and Cyndi Sperber-Frea, a five-time polar bear, were well prepared for the 2013 swim.

Swimmers scramble out of the lake and back onto the ice to their dry clothes. Photo by Len Villano.

“We’ve been through a lot colder,” Frea said. “We’ve sat through many a gusty day.”

Frea and Sperber-Frea prepared well for the 2013 Polar Bear Plunge. They brought along a tool kit with hot water in a thermos, dry clothes and an empty cooler to help warm up after the swim. After getting out of the lake, they poured the hot water into the cooler, then stood in the cooler as they put on dry clothes.

Swimmers aren’t the only ones to do preparation before the Polar Bear Plunge. Chuck Nelson of the Jacksonport Fire Department said volunteers had been out since 8 am grooming the beach to make it safe for swimmers and spectators. They used chainsaws to hack away at the ice and make an easy entrance point into the water, and pushed ice chunks out into the lake so people wouldn’t cut themselves during the event.

2013 in Door County started off with a successful Polar Bear Plunge, and while some look forward to spending time at the beach during the warmer months, others are already waiting for the next time they don a swimsuit for a January Lake Michigan dip.

“We’re all ready for next year,” Frea said.