Dive in, have a mimosa

A history of jumping into cold water

“The L Street Brownies take a plunge” Credit: New England Historical Society.
  • “The L Street Brownies take a plunge” Credit: New England Historical Society.

Every New Year's Day in the Netherlands, some 10,000 people dive together into the frigid water at Scheveningen. New Zealanders do it in mass at various beaches in late June, which is when winter just starts kicking in down there. In South Queensferry, Scotland, a thousand loonies take a dook. It’s a late December rite of passage for scientists in Antarctica. The idea of jumping into cold water voluntarily makes me wonder who thought it up. To my inward question, it turns out that some European immigrants in late 19th century Boston felt that swimming in cold water and tanning were beneficial to the heart, skin, and circulation.

Past Event

Saska's Polar Plunge

  • Tuesday, January 1, 2019, 9 a.m. to noon
  • Saska's & Saska Sushi, 3768 Mission Boulevard, San Diego
  • $10 - $20

The L Street Bathhouse in South Boston was a popular hangout for those that liked cold water dips and sunbathing. There they swam and sunned, many in the nude, and eventually became known as the L Street Brownies due to their dark tans. The idea of cold water swimming caught on, and New York’s Coney Island Polar Bear Swim Club held the first recorded New Year’s Day Swim in 1903. Though they were the impetus (their club preceded the Coney Island club by decades) the well-tanned Bostonians didn’t hold their first New Year’s swim until 1904— thus the name Polar Bear Plunge. Had the Bostonians officially taken the plunge first, the event now might be called the ‘L Street Brownie Plunge’.

Though the wintertime sea temperature in San Diego might be considered very warm to folks in the locales mentioned above, it’s too cold for me. I might watch those entering the chilly water and have a mimosa or Bloody Mary to cheer their bravery. If either floats your boat, then this New Year’s Day at Mission Beach, Saska’s will be holding their annual Polar Bear Plunge. After the dip in the ocean, participants will return to Saska’s to enjoy complimentary Swell Coffee, a costume contest, raffle prizes, happy hour pricing all day, and a special New Year’s Day brunch buffet.

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