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Harbor Happenings: Olalla’s Polar Bear jump

Posted on December 28th, 2022 By:

While some folks will start the New Year with a cup of strong coffee and a football game, dozens of intrepid souls will gather to jump from the Olalla Creek bridge into the icy waters below.

They call themselves “Polar Bears.”

It’s a decades-long tradition New Year’s Day tradition. Although the origins of the Polar Bear jump have become hazy, old timers remember that it was started by John Robbecke and a couple of other undaunted — some say crazy — locals. Robbecke was the longtime owner of Al’s Store, now Olalla Bay Market. Way back when.

The 2022 Polar Bear jump in Olalla. Charlee Glock-Jackson

The jump officially begins with a cannon shot at noon on Jan. 1, but many people take their first plunge earlier and do multiple jumps.

Costumes and refreshments

Some jumpers wear costumes. Some jump to clear their heads of New Year’s Eve over-indulgence. Others do it on a dare. Still others have made the leap every New Year’s Day for years and think it would be bad luck to miss it.

Traditionally, every jumper is entitled to an official “Olalla Polar Bear” certificate, suitable for framing. And specially designed sweatshirts are sometimes available for purchase.

This year Gregg and Claudia Olsen, owners of the Olalla Bay Market and Landing, will provide free hot cider to all who need a warm-up. Harbor Haute Dogs will sell gourmet franks in the market parking lot and other food vendors may join.

The 2022 Polar Bear Plunge in Olalla. Charlee Glock-Jackson

Tide and temperature can be a factor in the number of people who make the plunge.

Such things don’t much matter to the regulars who jump every year. But this year the tide favors jumpers, as high tide happens shortly after noon, at 12.47 feet. And the temperature is forecast to be a relatively balmy 45-degrees.

A crowd gathers to watch the 2022 Polar Bear plunge in Olalla. Charlee Glock-Jackson

Other events

  • Ring out 2022 on New Year’s Eve at The Float in Purdy, 14511 Sherman Drive NW, with live music by My Guilty Pleasure. No cover charge; complimentary champagne at midnight.
  • The Gig Harbor Literary Society meets at the History Museum at 6 p.m. Jan. 3 to discuss this month’s selection, “End of the Wild” by Jason Taylor. New members are welcome.
  • Sip wine and enjoy live music with Katie C and Friends at 6:30 p.m. Jan 6 at the Olalla Winery. The show starts at 6:30 p.m.; $15 cover. The winery is located at 13176 Olalla Valley Road. Get tickets here.
  • Music returns to the BoatShop, 3805 Harborview Drive, at 7 p.m. Jan. 7 with singer songwriter John Nilsen at 7 p.m. Get tickets here.
  • The year’s first Pier Into the Night, sponsored by Harbor WildWatch, takes place at Jerisich Dock at 5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 7.