Brian Rhodes-Devey of Portland emerges from the bracing water at East End Beach on Dec. 31, 2019, alongside dozens of other participants in the 12th annual Polar Bear Dip and Dash. The tradition of taking an icy plunge into the ocean to ring in 2021 is going virtual during the coronavirus pandemic. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

PORTLAND — The coronavirus pandemic has poured cold water all over the tradition of gathering en masse to ring in the new year by taking an icy plunge, but organizers are going with the floe.

Organizers of many traditional “polar plunges” have resolved to stay safe on New Year’s Day instead of hosting large events with hundreds of shivering participants that could spread the coronavirus. Instead, many events — often with a charitable bent — planned for Friday have been altered to incorporate virtual elements or social distancing.

At the Courage Polar Bear Dip in Lake Ontario, the largest such gathering in Canada, organizers are encouraging people to post videos of themselves being immersed in any body of ice water, including a kiddie pool or bathtub. Even a pile of snow will suffice.

“Anything that’s cold counts!” said Jenna Courage, daughter of one of the co-founders of the event, which benefits World Vision Canada.

In Seattle, the Polar Bear Swim that normally brings hundreds to Puget Sound is different, too. Participants are being encouraged to stagger their frigid dips throughout the day, instead of a mass plunge, and they must wear masks and distance themselves along Alki Beach, said organizer Mark Ufkes.

In Maine, Special Olympics is encouraging its participants to forgo the Lobster Dip in the water at Old Orchard Beach in favor of a filmed “Lobster Roll” in the snow in their front yards. The best videos will be shared online.

But organizers were foiled again by a Christmas rainstorm and warm weather that melted away 2 feet of snow on the ground.

“I’ll try to be as creative as possible,” said Rocky Frenzilli, a retired schoolteacher who’s worn a bright red lobster costume in every Lobster Dip since the first one in 1989 hosted by the Portland Rugby Club.

Portland’s Polar Plunge participants are being encouraged to carry on at a place and time of their choosing instead of gathering at Portland’s East End Beach for the dip benefitting the Natural Resources Council of Maine. They’re being encouraged to share photos and videos, as well.

“This is the year where you want to jump in, wash it off and start afresh in 2021,” said Beth Comeau of the Natural Resources Council. “It’s been a horrible, lousy year, and we want to put it behind us.”


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