Several people wandered about Ocean Beach on New Year’s Day, dressed in jackets and beanies like the other folks strolling on the sand. But right at noon, when the emergency siren wailed its weekly warning, more than a dozen men and women stripped down to their bathing suits and waded into the frigid water.
Technology journalist and Sunset resident Mat Honan kick-started the second annual Ocean Beach Polar Bear Club event with a post on his blog. The group was one of two that commemorated the new year by braving the elements at Ocean Beach.
“I thought it would be a lot colder,” said Dom Sagolla, a Sunset resident and computer coder who helped create Twitter. Sagolla, a surfer who participated with his wetsuit-clad 4-year-old son Leo, noted that it did take a while to warm up.
For some, it was their first time ever swimming at Ocean Beach. Most used terms like “shocking,” “refreshing” and “exhilarating” to describe it.
“It made it easier with all of the people,” said Richmond district resident Joe Grand. “I couldn’t have done it alone.”
Participants disagreed about which was worse: entering or exiting. Grand said he was fine until he got up to his chest. Ed Casey of the lower Nob Hill area said emerging from the water got to him.
“Once you’re in the water, you’re fine,” he said. “Once you’re out of the water, it is the wind that is no good.”
Farther south, several dozen people gathered at The Riptide bar after a separate event called Dive Fearlessly Into 2013. The crowd warmed itself by the fireplace and with drinks from the bar.
Plunge co-coordinator Eddie Clark, a Sunset resident, said people have been doing these swims on New Year’s Day for years, but without much formal organization.
Riptide co-owner Les James was surprised at the turnout.
“I thought it would be 10 people,” he said.
About 50 of the 100 people who went to the Riptide event waded into the water with the rest staying dry on the shoreline.
“There was a lot of cheering,” said Sunset resident Paul Rowland. “With all those people there was an adrenaline,” he said. “I didn’t even feel the cold.”