San Pedro --A fabulous tradition began in 1953 that continues today. Each year on January 1 as the world rings in a new year, the Cabrillo Beach Polar Bears host a Polar Bear Plunge in which they crown the year's King & Queen, and take a swim in the ocean, christening the representatives who will officiate throughout the year.
The New Year's swim tradition actually may be much older--some say it has been going on as long as anyone can remember. And at one time part of the tradition included rowing "King Neptune" to shore to officiate the event. Founding Polar Bear members were John Olguin and Jack Cheaney. Muriel Olguin drew the original Polar Bear logo still in use.
Ray Falk in 1985 got City Council to declare Cabrillo Beach Bathhouse the official home of the Cabrillo Beach Polar Bears. Inside the building you can see framed photos of some of the members. Falk and other members took their club to a new level when they decided at that time that they should adopt aspects of the Dolphin Club in San Francisco (formed in 1877.) The Polar Bear Club has an administrative staff with a President, Vice-President, Treasurer, Secretary and Board of Directors. The King and Queen are elected each year to represent the Club at Community functions such as San Pedro Christmas Parade, which includes a Polar Bear float.
The club formed during WWII (1945) and began the polar bear swims on New Year's Day about eight years later as a special celebration taking place around Noon, in which members would bring cookies, coffee & cocoa and share them with the public that each year is invited to take the first chilly swim of the season. Prizes at the annual New Year's swim are often awarded for person who traveled the longest distance to attend. The event started out with about 100 swimmers coming, and has grown to 500-1,000 swimmers some years. It takes place near the main lifeguard tower near the Old Cabrillo Beach Bathhouse.
The club has anywhere from 20 to 100 members at any time, with the main objective being to participate in swimming in the ocean regularly. Their mission statement is commitment to swimming, fitness and community service.
While the Polar Bears swim daily and are somewhat accustomed to the experience of entering 57 degree water in the winter, not everyone attending has enjoyed the chilling effect of this time-honored tradition. Club members delights at seeing the expressions of those who are enjoying the thrill for the very first time.
What is there to officiate? Swimming in the ocean. The club has a home at the historic Cabrillo Beach Bathhouse, and their entire passion and mission is swimming.
Former Kings & Queens have included 1961- Gregory Jilzov and Emily Copp; 1964 - Willi Hoefke and Dyna Bertolotti; 1969 - David Jones and Margaret Tracy; 1974 -Victor Pappas and Margarethe Hamilton; 1975 - Jack Carr and Anita Dragovich; 1976 - Albert Rea and Mary Bertsch Samaras