Even on freezing cold days, I think jumping into oceans or lakes is a ton of fun. But, like sleeping outdoors without a tent, running in the rain and letting dogs I’ve just met kiss me on the lips, most of what I do doesn’t come highly recommended.

So as I was working on this story about New Year’s polar plunges, I asked all the organizers why right-thinking people would consider hurling themselves into the ocean. My favorite response so far came from Emily Critelli, whose position at the Tillamook YMCA is so broad that she and her co-workers have coalesced it down to simply “Business Ninja.”

“It’s just a great way of washing off the dirt from last year and diving into the new one,” she said.

So, for folks inspired to take the plunge, here is a guide to all the cold-water dunks the Central Coast has to offer. Except for the Newport run, events happen on New Year’s Day.

Manzanita polar plunge

After warming up at a bonfire then gathering for a group photo, participants at this event pretty much just run into the ocean then back up the beach, usually straight back to the fire laughing or at least grinning.

“If you don’t have a smile from ear to ear, you didn’t do the plunge,” said Janice Gaines of Spa Manzanita. “I’ve never seen anyone not smiling at the event. Not in all the years I’ve been doing it.”

Since the event started more than 10 years ago, the number of plungers has swelled from a few friends to a few hundred friends who haven’t met yet. Many people dress up in costume, including Gaines, who dresses as the Cat in the Hat, though last year the dress code got a bit skimpy.

“Last year it was so sunny and warm we were down to t-shirts and shorts,” she said. “But a lot of people really like the fun of dressing up.”

The plunge location is Neahkahnie Beach, one mile north of downtown Manzanita, and there is parking in the neighborhoods on both sides of the beach access.

Though the official start time is 11 am, Gaines recommends arriving early.

“People can go into the water any time they want, but if they want to be part of the group and be in the photo they should get there early so they aren’t scrambling at the last minute. And if anyone wants to come down early and get the fire going, they are more than welcome.”

Cape Lookout Polar Plunge and hike

Though the plunge started six years ago in Oceanside, a positive partnership has caused itto head south for the winter.

“State Parks wanted to partner with us on it last year so we switched it to Cape Lookout,” Critelli said. “They provide warming fires for us, and Netarts Fire and Rescue have rescue staff out there, so we agreed it would be a good change. Plus the State Parks host first day hikes all over the state so they thought it would be a good mix for people to do the plunge, then warm up and go for a hike on the nearby trails.”

Critelli also pointed out that the park has a nice gazebo and warm up area in which to enjoy a hot beverage.

“For the first time this year, Dutch Bros is donating hot chocolate,” she said. “That will definitely help people get warmed up faster,”

The event begins at 11 am at Cape Lookout State Park. Day use fees are being waived.

Newport Resolution Run and Polar Bear Plunge

Held on the first Saturday of the year, this 5K, 10K, half marathon and plunge, is set for Saturday, Jan. 5.

The event has gone from strength to strength each year, success that organizer Ed Cortes of Ardor Adventures attributes to a few different reasons.

“The half marathon distance is becoming more and more popular,” he said. “Also, our photos of the plunge are fantastic. And last year the weather was so great I’m sure we’ll have lots of people coming back hoping for more of that, which unfortunately I can’t promise.”

Beginning at the Southeast Newport Jetty, the 5- and 10Ks take runners along paved walkways in the area, while the half marathon includes sections run on trails. All distances end by running over a dune then down to the finish line on the beach, followed by an optional plunge into the Pacific.

“Though the plunge is optional about 75 percent of the people end up doing it,” Cortes said. “And after running a race, the ocean plunge feels especially good.”

Though Cortes is too busy to plunge himself during the event, he loves watching the participants going in, especially ones that said they weren’t planning to do it.

“Some of my favorite photos are from people coming out of the ocean in groups, holding hands, hugging and high-fiving,” he said. “There was one woman last year that was dancing and whooping up and looked like she was having so much fun; every time I see those pictures it still makes me smile.”

The half marathon starts at 9 am, the other races at 10 am. For more information or to register, go to ardoradventures.com.

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