In The Pipeline: Starting the year with a splash

You've seen the Polar Plunges before, right? You know, usually on New Year's Day, a group of people jump into icy ocean waters as a way of welcoming in the new year, thus attracting lots of media attention.

The tradition goes back to 1903, when Bernarr Macfadden founded the Coney Island Polar Bear Club. He was referred to as the "Father of Physical Culture" due to the fact that he was an early advocate of physical fitness, natural foods and physical exercise.

Macfadden espoused that "[o]ur bodies are our most glorious possessions, that health-wealth is our greatest asset ... that weakness is truly a crime ... that every man can be a vigorous vital specimen of masculinity: that every woman can be a splendidly strong, well poised specimen of femininity." The Polar Bears, as you may know, are famous for their plunge into the icy New Year's Day waters off New York's Coney Island.

If Coney Island had Macfadden, then Huntington Beach has Lee Love, a local businesswoman who owns a consulting firm. Inspired by a plunge she watched at Balboa Island years ago, she got to work here in Huntington when she realized what a powerful fundraiser an event like that could be.

So for 12 years now, she has organized the Surf City Splash, our city's own take on the Polar Plunge. OK, our waters are relatively warm compared to what the East-Coasters endure, but as Love sees it, that just makes it more inviting.

"Our temperatures ensure that more people can enjoy a brisk, invigorating dip to help usher in the new year for some great causes," she told me.

Love originally put on the event for one wonderful cause in particular, Canine Companions for Independence. It's a national nonprofit organization that enhances the lives of children and adults with disabilities by providing highly trained assistance dogs and ongoing support to ensure quality partnerships. (You can visit it at

But donations this year will also go to benefit charities such as the Therapeutic Riding Center, the Lions SightFirst Foundation, Project Self-Sufficiency and other groups supported by the local Lions Club, which is sponsoring the pancake breakfast the morning of the event. The Downtown Business Improvement District is also participating in the Splash as part of the SCORE (Surf City Offers for Restaurants and Entertainment) program.

All Splash Certificates come with a SCORE card, which can be used at participating businesses —including the International Surfing Museum — for a discount or free gift. The certificates are available to both plungers and observers. If you take the plunge, then for a donation of $10 you receive a certificate of "Lionheartedness." If you prefer to just watch, then for $15 you're honored with a "Sanity" certificate. But it's all in good fun and all for good causes, Love stressed.

The pancake breakfast has become a bit of a legend in itself over the years. It's all you can eat for just $5 and the food is quite satisfying. Love and the organizers are expecting a particularly big turnout this year because the Rose Bowl is not being held the same day as the event. That usually cuts in to foot traffic a bit, but this year, no worries.

Love wants people to know that she feels this is a day to do something good in the city, recognize many volunteers and start the year off with a cleansing, feel-good event. And she couldn't do it without a lot of help. Mike Ali, who runs Zack's on the beach, lets Love use his place for the breakfast, which is a huge help, and this year there will be vendors out in Pier Plaza to help offset the costs.

Registration and breakfast will take place from 9 to 11 a.m. Sunday. From 11 to 11:45 a.m., there will be raffles and prizes awarded for categories including youngest and oldest plungers, along with other pre-Splash events. Then at noon, lifeguards will lead the throng to the safest shore, usually the north side of the pier, for the ceremonial march in to the cool sea (led by Love).

"My family moved to Huntington Beach in the 1930s," Love said. "I've lived many places in my life from Los Angeles to Africa, but this is my home now and forever. It's a wonderful place and this event is simply a way for me and others to create something lasting that does something truly good for the city and some special organizations. What better way to start off the new year?"

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 18 books, including the new "Hello, It's Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie." You can write him at

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