Half an hour before noon on New Year's Day at Ocean Beach, Ken LaCosse, admittedly hungover from the previous night's reveling, used a rake to uncover moister, darker sand for the shape of a large arrow pointing toward the glistening sea.
Near the tip of the arrow, he drew the words “FUTURE” and out of the final letter, another arrow extending to the shoreline.
That effort was worth it “for that reason right there, there it is,” said LaCosse, a friend of the nearby bar Riptide, pointing at the water. “There will be 75 to 100 people that will strip down and run in.”
It was the morning after a colder-than-usual New Year's Eve, but sure enough, as the hour neared noon, people filtered into the beach from the Taraval Street entrance for the fourth annual, loosely organized polar bear plunge.
Most of the 100 or so brave souls got ready to “dive fearlessly into the future,” as printed on the event T-shirts, in swim suits, but in true San Francisco fashion, several men wore nothing , or only a Santa Claus hat.
Some were plunge veterans, but for others, like Chelsea King, 26, who lives three streets away, it was a first, and an occasion to entertain visiting relatives.
“You only live once, you know, so you've got to do something fun,” King said before the plunge. “I'll probably die in the process, but whatever.”
Five minutes before noon, Jean Fontana, 37, who works at the Riptide, called on the antsy participants to line up behind the raked arrow, with hungover folks in the middle. Then at the 10 seconds mark, she led the countdown, and they dashed into the winter water, laughing, screaming and high-fiving.
The event informally promoted by Riptide started in 2012 when Sunset district native Eddie Clark and another person first took the plunge. Each following year, more people showed up for the event in San Francisco that has become a New Year's Day tradition worldwide.
A low of 41 degrees early morning Thursday – a couple degrees higher than the National Weather Service's prediction that came close to the lowest recorded on New Year's Day, 37 degrees in 1901 – did not put a damper on participation. At noon, the water temperature 15 miles west of San Francisco was 56 degrees, warmer than usual due to less predominant westerly winds that typically cause colder water to the surface, said Bob Benjamin, a forecaster for the service's San Francisco Bay area office.
Plungers Jay Benson, 52, and Tina Merx, 47, a couple visiting from Vancouver who have done the dip there, disagreed on how cold the water was.
“It was too warm for our liking,” Benson said. “But an excellent hangover cure.”
“Oh, he's lying – it was cold! He has more insulation than I do,” Merx said, patting Benson's belly.
“That is my New Year's resolution,” Benson quipped. “Get rid of my extra insulation.”