In the past few days we’ve been getting inquiries about whether the annual West Seattle Polar Bear Swim is on or off. We asked longtime organizer Mark Ufkes, and here’s his answer, with a preface:
The Year of Perfect Vision; 2020 is finally over. What a ride indeed!
Before we discuss our annual Alki Polar Bear Swim, held on January 1 each year, may I ask a favor; When you go for a walk outside, please wear a reflective SAFETY VEST when you walk. Please! And one for your DOG too!
If Drivers cannot see you or your dog clearly, especially at dusk, they might hit you and hurt you. Pedestrians who wear dark clothing are much more likely to get hit by a car. Death rates are even higher in winter and when it is raining. We can help keep walkers and pedestrians safer; wear a reflective SAFETY VEST every time we walk. I did a Master’s thesis on traffic safety issues (M.A.Ed. at Washington State University), so these observations are backed by scientific research. Improving visibility reduces pedestrian deaths. Wear a safety vest. Thank you.
OK, Now let’s talk Alki Polar Bear Swim:
The New Year’s Day Alki Beach Polar Bear Swim has been going on for almost two decades. It started with 15 adoring friends and family. We then invited all of you, and last year, about 700 mildly-insane folks lined all along Alki Beach, held hands, and, after counting down, went running and screaming into 47-degree Puget Sound. As anyone who participates can attest, it is a great way to “wash away the complexities of the previous year (we had many in 2020), and bathe in the unlimited opportunities that the New Year provides.” And with all the laughing and smiles, it’s great fun too.
For January 1, 2021, we do not want this to become a Trump Super-Spreader Event, so:
There will be no single Polar Bear Swim event on January 1 like we usually do.
Instead, there will be 30 sites along Alki Beach, each separated by 25 feet. Sites will be marked with tall, pink-ribboned stakes (see photo).
All day long, groups of no more than 5-6 each, all wearing masks, can head to Alki, find an open site, social distance as they walk to a site, and hold their own personal Polar Bear Swim.
At any one time along the 1,200-foot-long beach (almost four football fields), the stakes will limit Polar Bear swimmers to no more than 30 small groups, spread out from the Beach House towards beautiful downtown Seattle.
You and your group/family decide on a time (remember, you will have all day), drive along the beach, watch how many sites are open, if a site is open, park and head out to the beach. Everyone reading this has good judgement, so please use it. Don’t participate if you are uncomfortable. If you do participate, wear your mask, stay in your small group, and social distance on the way out and on the way back from the beach.
As soon as your swim is over, promptly towel off and head toward your car so that other small groups can safely access the Polar Bear Swim sites.
An announcer, wearing all pink, will be at the beach all morning, from 9-11:30 am, with the Polar Bear bullhorn, if a small group needs help with a countdown to get up the courage to run into the water. I, for one, could not do this event without the countdown!
Remember, bring and wear a mask, wear water shoes, bring a towel and change of clothes and your hopes and dreams for the New Year!
If you’d rather skip it this year, everyone will understand. But if you participate, you are acknowledging that the benefits of Polar Bear swimming exceed the risks, and that you are in good health, show no symptoms of Covid 19 and have not tested positive. And you agree to wear a mask at the event, practice social distancing, stay in your small group of no more than 5-6 folks, and use one of the properly separated sites on the beach. And if all the sites are taken when you arrive, you agree to return to your car and wait until a site opens up. And finally, you promise to bring a food donation for the local food bank that can be left along the sidewalk at the provided collection bins.
No Spectators! Usually, we have hundreds of spectators watching us, and we love our spectators. Many become swimmers later in their lives. But this year, we respectfully ask that spectators stay at home!
Good luck next year. Make 2021 the best year of your life!
Mark L. Ufkes (Alki Polar Bear enthusiast and optimist extraordinaire)