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NEW YEAR’S EVENT : They’re taking the plunge into 1994

While most Southern Californians spend New Year’s Day watching the Rose Parade or college football games on TV, a few hundred avid beach-goers will celebrate the holiday by plunging into the chilly Pacific Ocean.

The Cabrillo Beach Polar Bears, a group of more than 100 ocean swimmers, will sponsor its 42nd annual New Year’s Day Swim in the waters off San Pedro. About 350 people are expected to strip down to their bathing suits and take the plunge Saturday, said club President Ray Falk, 71.

Participants will receive a certificate stating the day’s weather conditions. Free hot chocolate and cupcakes will be provided. The National Weather Service is forecasting a weekend high for San Pedro of 68 degrees and an average water temperature of 58.

Polar Bears say they find the swims invigorating.

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Falk said he was in much colder water when he was in the Navy and will have no trouble with this weekend’s swim.

“It feels like you have a wet suit on. . . . You really don’t notice the cold,” he said.

The club recommends that participants wear ear plugs and eye goggles. Most people wear bathing suits, but some prefer wet-suits and flippers. A few choose to bathe in the nude, although it is illegal. Los Angeles County lifeguards will monitor the event.

Before the ocean dip, the Polar Bears will hold a ceremony to crown their new king and queen. Clark Faulk Jr., the recently elected king, said he has taken the New Year’s Day ocean dip only once.

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“I always looked at the Polar Bears as being kind of crazy,” said Faulk, 55, who joined the club two years ago at the urging of a longtime member. Faulk’s girlfriend, Barbara A. Cottom, is this year’s Polar Bear queen.

So what do they get out of the club?

A former Polar Bear queen, Phyllis Svilicich, 61, said the club has allowed her to meet people and get involved in community-service projects. Many Polar Bears paint over graffiti and repair beach facilities.

Besides, Svilicich said, swimming in the bone-chilling waters provides an unbelievable thrill.

“There’s something about it that just charges your body up,” she said.

John Svensson, an 84-year-old Cabrillo Beach Polar Bear, agrees. “It makes you feel good,” said Svensson, who plans to take the plunge many more times.

The New Year’s Day swim has become a tradition at Cabrillo Beach. Even before the Polar Bears were formed in 1953, people took dips to celebrate the new year, Falk said.

If swimming off Cabrillo sounds daring, consider this: The Coney Island Polar Bears in New York City plan to take their 91st annual swim Saturday in the Atlantic Ocean. Predicted air temperature: mid-20s; water temperature: 40.

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Non-members can swim with the Polar Bears Saturday at noon near the old Cabrillo Museum, 3720 Stephen White Drive .


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