Teenagers, young adults and people in their 60s joined together on New Year’s Day to grit their teeth, scream and laugh as they stripped down to swimsuits to brave ice-cold waters in the first formally organized Pinecrest Polar Bear Jump.
Cole Harvey, 14, of Sonora wore a rubber horse’s head mask for his frigid dip. Arash Soofiani, 26, of San Jose, dunked himself repeatedly in the reservoir and said it felt “like a Russian baptism. Like a release, of fear and leftover crap from last year.”
Josh Kappl, shirtless and wearing a black plastic Happy New Year hat, said he was going to get in the freezing cold water “just for bragging rights, to say I did it.”
Meri Lopez, 49, came with her friend, Marige Serrano, 49, of East Sonora, and they burst into raucous laughter each time they were asked what motivated them to jump in frigid water in bathing suits while spectators were bundled up in heavy jackets, hats, gloves, boots and scarves.
“We’ve been doing crazy things together,” Lopez said between guffaws, “for a long time.”
Dee Baldwin, 45, of Twain Harte, said before her icy dip she works at Black Oak Casino and she and some co-workers plan to take part in the Tulloch Polar Plunge in February to raise money for the Special Olympics.
Brian Carlson, 31, of Sonora, organized the event Tuesday at Pinecrest. He said he moved to the Sonora area four years ago from Hayward in the Bay Area. He got a taste for jumping into cold waters by swimming in the South Fork Stanislaus watershed.
“It would be July,” Carlson said. “But it would be very cold.”
Carlson upped his cold water jump game a year ago on New Year’s Day, when he brought friends to watch him jump into Pinecrest. But he was the only one to do it last year. This time at least a dozen people of all ages joined Carlson.
“This is the first organized one,” Carlson said about 90 minutes before the polar bear people jumped in the reservoir. “Last year it was just me. Me and my brother’s family, they came to see me get cold and laugh at me.”
Carlson said he drove up to Pinecrest from Sonora earlier Tuesday morning. He said the internet told him it was as low as 18 degrees Fahrenheit overnight at Pinecrest.
“It was 20 when we got here this morning,” a man walking by with a toddler and a dog said.
Carlson said the water level at Pinecrest was a lot lower this year than last year, so he scouted around further east where more water was visible. He walked among exposed rocks, concrete relics and mud-covered stumps that are normally 50 feet below the reservoir’s surface.
He picked up a football sized boulder, heft to his shoulder, rock-hopped close to the edge of some ice, heaved the rock and heard a loud crack as the ice broke. Then he chuckled.
“Heh, heh, that’s ice,” Carlson said. “Maybe we need to go further this way.”
The alcove he finally settled on had several different ways to get in the water, and some of the water was covered with ice.
Carlson had invited people to the first Pinecrest Polar Bear Jump on social media and by posting signs. Some people who came Tuesday said they saw a sign at The Rock in Twain Harte. Part of Carlson’s invitation said, “Meet us at Pinecrest Lake at noon on January 1st 2019 for a dip in the icy water, or sit onshore and watch people freeze their butts off.”
Hot dogs and hot chocolate and extra towels were available and people were urged to wear costumes. The event was free and open to anyone who wanted to jump in the water.
Renee Corall, 60, and Larry Corral, 66, residents of Oakdale who keep a cabin on Rustic at Pinecrest, wore matching bright yellow onesie outfits with goofy eyeballs attached to the hoods. They said they were dressed as “Mr. and Mrs. Loonie Bird.”
At the end, as everyone congratulated each other and dozens of onlookers applauded the cold water crazies, James Yendes, 51, of Sacramento, put on a furry hat with ear flaps, stuck a wet cigar in his lips and pulled his white bathrobe a little tighter. On his feet he wore black socks and lace-up dress shoes.
“Nothing finer,” Yendes said. “Nothing finer.”
Contact Guy McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.